Humanity will not be able to say it was not warned
This post is to mark the impending publication of the latest book from Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, entitled The Collapse of Western Civilisation: A View From the Future. The authors have already published a summary of this book’s thesis and purpose in the academic journal Daedalus. However, in July, the book itself will be published by Columbia University Press, who summarise it thus:
In this haunting, provocative work of science-based fiction, Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway imagine a world devastated by climate change. Dramatizing the science in ways traditional nonfiction cannot, the book reasserts the importance of scientists and the work they do and reveals the self-serving interests of the so called “carbon combustion complex” that have turned the practice of science into political fodder. Based on sound scholarship and yet unafraid to speak boldly, this book provides a welcome moment of clarity amid the cacophony of climate change literature.
I was tempted to recommend readers look at all previous posts in my ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ or ‘Collapse’ categories. However, this would take quite a long time. Therefore, if you have not read them before, I will just limit myself to recommending that you read:
- The first of two sequential posts in January 2012 about Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; and
- One of my earliest posts from September 2011 (reproduced in slightly modified form below), in which I mention the Civilisation: Is the West History? book and TV series by Niall Ferguson.
Taking these three books – from Diamond, Ferguson, and Oreskes and Conway – together, the one thing humanity will not be able to say is that it was not warned…
The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Dagon
I firmly believe that you do not need to be an adherent to any faith to find value in religious texts; and this is one of my favourite historical stories from the Old Testament: It tells of the Philistines (i.e. now Palestinians) capturing the Ark of the Covenant and – eventually – returning it to the Jews because of all the trouble having it caused (see 1 Samuel Chapters 5 and 6 if you’re interested). I think the moral of this story may be twofold: It tells us (1) that God can look after himself; and (2) we should not raise any object to the status of an idol.
Personally speaking, learning the first lesson from this story eventually convinced me in the mid-1980s that there was no point trying to persuade my devoutly-atheistic teachers at Portsmouth Polytechnic (as it was then) that not all Christians were Young Earth Creationists… However, globally speaking, learning the second lesson from this story will be necessary before humanity can dig itself out of the hole it is now in – as a result of (1) pride (in our own resourcefulness); and (2) complacency (regarding the Earth’s sensitivity to our activity)…
This was the warning given by E.F. Schumacher in Small is Beautiful (1973) and, most-recently, by James Lovelock in Revenge of Gaia (2006). Karl Marx called it “money fetishism” and Herman Daly called it “growthmania” but, whatever you want to call it, we need to renounce it; and acknowledge that all human actions – most important of all being waste production – have consequences… Therefore, more than anything else, this is a plea for anthropogenic humility, intellectual honesty, moral courage, and determined action. This is because if we fail to act soon then, yes, I do firmly believe that we face an environmental catastrophe.
If all of the above merely convinces you that environmentalism is a new religion, so be it but, I think you are wrong: I think consumerism is the new religion and, on the contrary, environmentalism is just a natural response to the realisation that humanity is having a terrible impact on the planet; and needs to change its ways before its very existence – in anything like current numbers and at current average levels of affluence – is seriously compromised.
Authors will have to forgive me if they feel I have here plagiarised any of their work, because this is an amalgamation of many different things I have seen or read. However, above all, it is influenced most-recently by watching Civilisation: Is the West History? by Niall Ferguson; and reading Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton… I do not believe either of these two men has been ideologically “captured” by any political agenda; they are merely being (at times painfully) honest and objective about the predicament in which we now find ourselves (though to be fair we were warned almost 40 years ago but chose not to listen).
In their latest book, Oreskes and Conway suggest that collapse will occur in 2093. Sadly, I suspect it will be a lot sooner than that. However, far from being mere pessimism, this conclusion is based on a great deal of scientific research. Research that shows that environmental change is now in the process of accelerating beyond our capacity to mitigate it:
- What on Earth are we doing? (19 February 2013).
- A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al. (11 October 2013).