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allow us to relax into any particular mode of response. It may proceed at
an incremental pace for many years but at other times strike quickly. 83 It
will be an ongoing horror unlike any we have faced before. Planetary in
scale, unfolding over a long span of time, it will at times give us room to
change and at others interrupt our projects without mercy. It will allow
us to have the illusion we are adapting successfully, then undercut our
efforts with further ecological transformations. We cannot assume these
events will necessarily finish us off soon, but neither should we pretend
we can master them or survive them unscathed. Climate change, in short,
will never quite allow us total hope or uter despair: we will be caught
endlessly between conflicting possibilities.
In realizing that this is our most likely future, in turning from the hope
we might ward it of to accepting the task of adapting to it, we are taking
no small step. In doing so, we concede that our future will consist of liv-
ing in a worsening world—a world that may get incrementally, steadily
less habitable as time goes by.
This change will be much tougher on all of us than the most likely
consequences of severe climate change, such as storms and floods, rising
food prices and disappearing water supplies, economic distress and wars.
Modern life has always been premised on the notion of progress—on
democratization, economic growth, increasing cultural interchange, and
improvements in the lives of ordinary people. America as a nation, bor-
rowing on the promise of the Enlightenment it shares with many other
traditions, has always looked ahead, building its identity on the promise
of eventual liberation for its citizens and for the people of the world. For
many generations, parents in modern societies have assumed that they
were making beter lives for their children, conident that their hard work
and sacrifice would benefit their offspring. Even in dark times, at the
depths of the Depression or in the midst of war, Americans have kept this
hope alive. Participants in movements for social and economic justice
have always cast their eyes far ahead, knowing that activism might pay off
only decades into the future. All these hopes, in turn, have tacitly relied
on the promise of economic growth, a promise that all advanced capital-
ist nations now rely on for their legitimacy—the hope that over time, all
incomes would rise, and everyone would eventually flourish.
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