I’ve been struggling with the concept of empathy lately - empathy as it relates to climate change.
I’ve been wondering if I am ethically required to have empathy for climate deniers who tend to be older white straight males vigorously defending their privilege. Am I required to vicariously experience their feelings? Will my empathy assist me in changing their actions?I’m not suggesting yelling at anyone or abusing them in any way : although, if doing so got action on climate change, I would recommend it!
If I have empathy for the beleaguered and battered earth, does that eliminate a necessity to have empathy for the people who are destroying her? Lower it? How about if their destruction is unconscious? How far am I permitted to go in waking them up? Especially if they have a tonne of privilege (yes, somewhere there's a scale that weighs it!) and revel in their privilege......
How do I decide what my actions should be?
Humanity doesn’t seem to be smart enough to take the steps we need to take to survive: instead, articles in the business pages discuss the profits to be made from oil extraction in an ice free Arctic.
Persistently high oil prices are also making the huge engineering challenges of working in such a hostile environment look more worthwhile. In addition, the climate change that burning hydrocarbons contributes to has pushed back the ice, opening up access to, and markets for, the hydrocarbons there. http://business.financialpost.com/2012/09/17/shell-admits-arctic-drilling-defeat-for-now/
What the fuck? Are we mad and suicidal and determined to take every ecosystem with us as we kill ourselves?
Sharon Butula writes about her conviction that we are walking on the mind of a sentient being when we walk on the earth. (page 127 , The Perfection of the Morning, 1994) She wonders
What if I am walking inside the mind of a creature - call it what you will - what if the earth really is a living being and my presence here is only on sufference? If I am learning new things about myself and extrapolating from these things to his natural world....then it behooves me to wlak carefully, to pay attention, to show my growing respect in every possible way. I stopped picking wildflowers; I went around rocks instead of stepping on them...I did not glance at plants or lichens on rocks or on the gound, I studied them.
What of the rest of us who do far worse than pick wild flowers?
I have a friend who says:
“No one is perfect, and the fact that some people can’t wrap their head around climate change doesn’t make them any less deserving of being treated with respect ( and empathy). So yes, you are called to show empathy for all sorts of cretins every day in the world It’s easy to feel empathy for the earth. The hard part is showing empathy for those destroying her. But if we show no empathy, we don’t stand a chance at changing their minds.”
Is that true? Or is showing empathy a way of procrastinating? A way of demonstrating solidarity - so we don't actually havae to take action on climate change?