I reckon that if you had asked climate scientists ten years ago when would the weather maps in Australia would need a new colour to show temperatures above 50 degrees, some would probably have said “ooh, the year 2040 or so” while others would have retorted to that “that’s irresponsible alarmism – we don’t understand enough to make any predictions.”
And this is a pattern being repeated across different areas of study. Glaciers are retreating, fisheries collapsing, financial systems collapsing faster not just than our best minds thought they would, but faster than they thought was possible. Our brains and scientific tools are linear. Our scientists are small c conservative. (1) Wally Broecker’s angry and rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem is neither linear nor conservative, it seems.
It’s coming now, faster than even I thought. I really am starting to wonder how many more “good years” people like me (white, middle-class, western, utterly and irredeemably dependent on techno-capitalism for our survival) will have.
I am NOT saying that the world should go on like this, that it is somehow “unfair” that it won’t. If you want unfair, look at what has happened to pretty much every culture and society that has had the pleasure of the West’s civilising mission these last 500 years. If you want unfair, look at what we as a species have been doing to other species. Have a look at the legacy we are leaving for our sons and daughters, nephews and nieces.
I am saying though, that if the shit DOES hit the fan in the next five years (2); if food prices rocket like I think they will, and that ramifies to more poverty, civil unrest, desperation, economic collapse, and life is really really shitty in the year 2020 – do I want to be looking back having spent so much of 2013 and 2014 on what I KNEW to be a futile exercise? Do I want to look back and regret the books not read, the stories not written, the friends not made, the friendships not maintained? The time not spent with the woman I love and admire very very much?
By the way, when I talk about futile exercises, I am not even talking about reducing carbon emissions. I no longer believe that is worth discussing.
I am talking about the “crumple zone” – the habits that would help our institutions survive the coming shocks – or rather, adapt and change in response to the coming shocks – without descending into futile spasms of Order and Discipline and fascism. I don’t even believe in that crumple zone. I don’t believe we can develop and share the habits of mind and meeting.
I can’t be sure of this, of course – and Calvinist-Dwight is sitting on my shoulder as I type this, mocking me for indulging in “motivated reasoning.” But based on repeated attendance at meetings, rallies etc of allegedly “progressive” and “think different” organisations in both England and Australia, I see not only no ability to innovate and experiment, but no appetite for it. People would rather slumber in the smugosphere.
The horse is dead, and I am just about done flogging it. There are other, more pleasurable uses for a right arm, in the dog days of Sapiens’ Imperium.
- Six years ago, when the last IPCC report was released, Susan Solomon, the lead author of the science report (WG1) was repeatedly questioned about “when will this all unfold?” at a Royal Society event.
She refused to be drawn, giving the (terrifying) stock answer “It’s later than you think.”
- It is now simply a question of timing – how much, how fast. The precise butterfly wing-flapping is, by definition, impossible to know. And irrelevant.
* Yes yes, not “diems”, but rather “dies”. Found this, btw, –
“This popular Latin phrase has been popularized in books, movies, and other media, but the original source of this phrase is ancient; It is from Horace’s (65-8 BC) Odes, a collection of his poems. The original line reads:
Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. (seize the day and place no trust in tomorrow.)”
UPDATE: On January 12 2011, exactly two years ago from the day I wrote this, I wrote a post “Why not quit?” It’s better, perhaps, than what you’ve read above, though I no longer agree with it. I appear to have coarsened with age…
UPDATE #2, 14/1/2013: Chris Hedges on The Myth of Progress