An earlier post The Name of Action (and the matching video) take its title from Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. A theme of Shakespeare’s play is that Hamlet knows that he needs to take action, but he fails to do so (until the very end). He talks and talks, but does not act. The same theme applies to the written word. When Polonius asks Hamlet, “What do you read, my lord?” Hamlet replies, “Words, words, words”. He is suggesting that the written word is merely a medium for thought; it does not substitute for not taking action.
It is strange to think that those words, written over 400 years ago, can have any relevance to the climate crisis, but they do. Consider the response of activists at the recent COP26 (Conference of the Parties) that was held in Glasgow, Scotland. On the streets outside the conference hall the best-known of these activists, Greta Thunberg said,
"The COP26 is over. Here's a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah."
Responses such as this may allow for emotional venting. But that’s all. In the end, Thunberg’s response is no more satisfactory than that of the official attendees — who seemed to be no longer even talking a good game. It’s almost as if they have even given up trying.
Thunberg started her activist life as an innocent, rather naïve teenager. As such, she rightly garnered world-wide praise for her courage and her willingness to speak truth to power. But she is now an adult — it is reasonable to expect her to provide constructive responses to the climate crisis. She has many followers, and has immense influence. She also has experience meeting with world leaders. She should be using this influence and experience to come up with solutions.
Specifically, she and activists like her need to address the question: how do we achieve a stable climate without wrecking the world’s economies? If we drastically cut our use of fossil fuels to meet the ambitious targets that she and her colleagues are calling for, then society as we know it will cease to function. Fossil fuels provided the energy needed to increase the world’s population from under 1 billion in pre-industrial times to around 7.5 billion now. The consequences of a sudden cutback in the use of those fuels would have unthinkable consequences. Simply criticizing the world leaders is not enough.
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
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