Requiem for a Species + Energy + the Environment

Hannah Mackinney a.k.a. Thistle, Student
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Clive Hamilton’s book Requiem for a Species is all about climate change. The book explains the science behind climate change, but also goes into the root causes of our excessive energy consumption. We live in a society where “success” is often measured in Gross Domestic Product, a scale which perpetuates the idea that wealth equals happiness. The book points out that studies have shown that once a certain level of wealth is achieved, happiness levels no longer rise with income, however, carbon emissions do. When we put excessive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, we create a positive feedback loop where “increases of atmospheric greenhouse gases raise the heat-trapping potential of the atmosphere, which in turn interferes with the natural carbon cycle in ways than tend to amplify the greenhouse effect.”[1] (The greenhouse effect is greenhouse gases absorbing thermal radiation from the planet’s surface and re-radiates it in all directions. The greenhouse effect is responsible for creating livable temperatures on Earth, but human emissions of fossil fuels have increased it to the point where it causes global warming.)
        As we learn from the IPAT equation, (Impact = Population × Affluence × Technology), “the level of environmental Impact depends on the Population, the level of Affluence (measured by GDP per person) and Technology.”[2] Since all of these factors are currently on the rise globally, our levels of carbon emissions have reached irreversible heights. We can no longer prevent climate change, and the window in which we have any power to abate it is shrinking rapidly. Yet on a large scale, humans still aren’t doing anything about it. Why?
        One of the main reasons is that as a society, we are dependent on burning fossil fuels for energy. The way our economy functions, we won’t have an incentive to start looking for clean energy until what we are currently using stops being profitable.[3] We don’t look at the big picture, and what will be good for the future of our species because capitalism and the advertising that targets us tells us that gratification only matters if it’s instant. We are told that it’s “modern” and “sophisticated” to “spend more, borrow more and save less;”[4] we’re told that economic growth is inherently good, patriotic, even. Most people who are skeptical of, or in denial about climate change feel this way because the idea that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions threatens the GDP-oriented idea of success which we hold so dearly. 
        If we really want to decrease our carbon emissions, we have to stop the cycle of growth for the sake of growth, and while this inspires fear in a large percentage of the population, as Hamilton argues, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He points out that  “in the consumption society economic growth can be sustained only as long as people remain disconnected. Economic growth no longer creates happiness: unhappiness sustains economic growth.”[5] Advertising has shaped our society so dramatically that people’s identities are directly linked to their status as consumers. We are told that we are not worthy or good enough until we buy the newest, hottest thing.[6] There are entire industries that feed off our insecurity and tell us what we need in order to feel good, but when we buy it, we don’t and we try to buy more crap to fill the holes in our lives.[7] What we really need is love and validation and a sense of self. When we have those things in our lives, we no longer feel as attached to our possessions, but the economy works hard to perpetuate a culture of scarcity, to keep us so busy wanting that we forget what we really need.[8] 
        When people are told that if we really want to reduce our carbon emissions, we have to stop consuming so much, they get scared because it feels like an attack at their very being, not simply their behavior. In order to do anything to prevent climate change, we must dismantle the concept of the consumer self. This is extremely difficult, because if we want our actions to dramatically affect climate change, we need to move fast, and at this point most people are unaware of how deeply their identities are linked to consumption, let alone ready to change their behavior so dramatically.
[1] Hamilton, Clive. "No Escaping the Science." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 9. Print.
[2] Hamilton, Clive. "Growth Fetishism." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 42. Print.
[3] Muller, Richard A. "Climate Change." Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: An Introduction to the Essential Physics Every World Leader Needs to Know. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2010. 383-87. Print.
[4] Hamilton, Clive. "The Consumer Self." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 93. Print.
[5] Hamilton, Clive. "The Consumer Self." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 71. Print.
[6] Susan is telling me about a movie called The Joneses where actors infiltrate a wealthy neighborhood in order to sell things to their community, which isn’t exactly how things work, but it’s a similar idea.
[7] Susan is telling me about another movie that explains that if you’re naked in a thunderstorm and someone offers you a warm cabin, your problems can be solved by material things, but that isn’t applicable to most of life.
[8] I live in a warm cabin. I have tea and instant oatmeal and a safe place to sleep and all my physical needs are met. But having a roommate who cares about me feels at least as important as those things. If I didn’t have Susan here, I might feel like something was missing in my life, and perhaps I would fill that void by ordering copious numbers of toasters over the internet.

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