The children are going on strike to protect their futures. It’s long past time we so-called grown-
ups got our heads out of the sand and took responsibility for the broken world we have given them. We should be demanding that governments stop supporting fossil fuels, road building and airport expansion, and instead take the resources we western nations pour into ‘defence’ and consumerism and spend them on greening our economy and society.
I am currently reading Naomi Klein’s Noisnotenough, and, thanks to her brilliant exposition, I’ve finally understood why some apparently intelligent, powerful people persist, at least in public, in denying what we/they are doing to the planet and carry on acting in ways that exacerbate the crisis. I now realise that it isn’t that they are too blinkered or isolated to see what is happening or that they believe their wealth will protect them from the unfortunate (but unavoidable because the neoliberal show must go on) effects of disrupting ecosystems and society. It’s that they welcome the coming crises because they are set to profit from them. Wars and catastrophes are just business opportunities if you are in the right line of work. And social disruption just frees up the 1% from the irritating hindrances of democracy, regulation and all that.
I’m hoping the last part of the book will give me more reason for optimism.
Yesterday evening some of us turned off the lights to mark Earth Hour. To briefly, symbolically, pay attention to the harm we are doing every day by the way we live on the planet. A feeble gesture no doubt. Can a drip, drip of small individual acts eventually add up to a system change? Probably not. But system change is what is needed and sooner than eventually…
The apocalyptic science fiction I read in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties seems to be coming true: ecological collapse (The Death of Grass, John Christopher), extreme inequality, AIs you can talk to, cyberspace (William Gibson), self-driving cars, gated communities, countries throwing nuclear threats about, people (serious people!) suggesting we are going to need to find another planet.
But on the other hand, so far, we have not been visited by aliens, friendly or otherwise. I watched a (devastating) lecture the other day (thanks to HoneythatsOK), arguing that we are past the point of no return on climate change and that civilisation and its collapse are both heat engines. So, whether we act or not, the game is up – the game in question being the human race and much else, the endgame not just the collapse of civilisation but human extinction in the not too distant future. (That got dark quickly.)
This led me to thinking a few things (!), among which:
Maybe the reason we haven’t been visited by aliens is that any civilisation sophisticated enough to get out into space would be very likely to disrupt its home ecosystem so much that it would destroy itself before it could do so.
What is a reasonable response to this prophecy of doom? A form of Pascal’s wager perhaps. We cannot be absolutely sure what is to come. Our models and our understanding are limited. Some climate scientists seem more optimistic than the speaker in the video (and we hope that is not because of a conspiracy of silence to prevent mass panic). So we have a choice: to accept the prophecy of doom and give up on trying to mitigate climate change, or to act as if it is not too late and try to do something about it. If the prophecy of doom is true, it makes no difference what we do, but if it isn’t and we act as if it is by giving up, we may be making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. So rather than giving up in despair, we should work on the assumption that something can be done to prevent the worst-case scenario, and do so with even more urgency.
In a luxurious and secluded venue, a group of rich and powerful people sit, sipping brandy and discussing the great problems of the world, climate change and how to respond to it without losing their position of privilege. One says, ‘Maybe we have to face it – fossil fuels, consumerism and endless growth are failing – the crazy, green socialists are right – we can’t go on using resources and destroying the planet just to keep siphoning wealth from the poor. Things have got to change.’
But another smiles and says, ‘Don’t forget the other solution.’
‘Fewer people means less destruction of ecosystems and fewer poor people means less inequality. Just what those crazy greens want. If we didn’t have to support so many poor people the world would be much better off.’
‘But what about the gruntwork they do? I don’t want to slave in a care home or pick fruit!’
‘Most of that can be automated – and much of it is unnecessary anyway. We’re only farming them for the interest on the loans that keep them locked in to the system.’
‘Ok. How do you propose to downsize?’
‘Simple. Make sure universal healthcare fails and have a few wars … more brandy anyone?’