It is Far Too Late: Ha Ha Ha.

A Yippie Review of Not Too Late

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb arrived at the right moment: soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis when nearly everyone around the world was worrying about a nuclear apocalypse. Stanley Kubrick, Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens and screenwriter Terry Southern figured out how to make a dark comedy out of the deepest of human fears. Someday soon I hope someone will write a comedy about the “climate change story” as Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Lutunatabua call it in the subtitle to the new book they’ve edited and to which they contribute potent essays. There is no comedy in Not Too Late (Haymarket; $16.95), and no laughter, either, as far as I can tell after reading the book twice and digesting it. There is plenty of handwringing, cheerleading and railing of the faithful foot soldiers in the cause. I don’t know the target audience that Solnit and Lutunatabua have in mind, though I don’t doubt that there are people who inhabit the world of “despair” when it comes to the subject of climate.

From the point of view of the editors, these despairing souls have to be told to be hopeful, to emerge from their own cocoons and silos, join together with others and to act. Specifically to consume less, downsize and conserve, don’t eat meat, don’t fly and leave the smallest of footprints. All good advice. Probably because I was and still am a Yippie at heart I believe that laughter, satire and even slapstick comedy can prod and inspire people to revolt, resist and rebel. I wish that the contributors to Not Too Late had been a tad less serious, less dire, less overwhelmed and had injected some elements of goofiness and playfulness in their essays, and also had added more fantasy and fewer facts and figures.

There are more than two-dozen separate pieces in Not Too Late. After reading just half-a-dozen of them I grew weary of the sermonizing and preaching to the choir. Perhaps some will think that the perspective expressed here is heretical and that climate change is too serious a subject to joke about. I beg to disagree. The world as we’ve known it is fast ending. There is no turning back the hands on the clock. We’re not going to return to the way it was in 1968 or 1988, so we might as well go over the edge with grace and laughter rather than crying and hoping against hope.

If I read, accurately, Solnit’s contributions to this volume she has shifted her perspective. For years she has emphasized the need to be hopeful and not wallow in despair.  She hasn’t given up hoping, but she seems to have fallen back on faith. We don’t know the outcome, she explains. We can’t read the future, but we have to act anyway, she insists, even if we don’t know for sure the result of our actions. It is, indeed, possible that human beings will take steps that will mitigate disaster.

Still, my own universe doesn’t have much room for faith or for hope. It does have room for courage, clowning and the kind of guerrilla theater that the Yippies practiced when they ran a pig for president, levitated the Pentagon and threw money on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Yippies didn’t overthrow the military, the American political system, or capitalism, but they persuaded citizens to laugh at what was known as the “establishment,” and to be empowered. That was worth doing.

Is there anyone out there ready to follow in the footsteps of Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Terry Southern and Judy Gumbo? And are there provocateurs and pranksters who aren’t so-called “experts” of the kind who contribute to Not Too Late. I read phrases like “climate communicators,” “climate facilitators” and “climate policy experts,” and I think, save me from the experts and the so-called professionals. Experts are among the last group of people to know what is happening and how to change direction.

Couldn’t Solnit and Lutunatabua have found non-experts on the ground who could have described what it’s actually like to live in the brave new world of climate change in Iceland, Ireland, Argentina and Afghanistan? On the last page of their book the authors write “we are here to fortify people to fase and to try to change it.” I don’t want to be fortified, thank you. And I don’t want to “try” to change it. I just want to Do It!” I wouldn’t mind a revolution for the hell out of it.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.