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Time’s Up?

Two weeks ago Elli and I began our tour to promote her new novel. On the first night we stayed at an old friend’s apartment in New York City. Naturally, we discussed politics, and after hearing me describe my environmental concerns our friend responded that scientists have been predicting for decades what they still say today; we are running out of time to avoid ecological disaster.

I believe she was gently implying that perhaps things weren’t as bad as I feared, and that I might be over-reacting. Our old friend raised a very important point, and I believe that she was both right and wrong.

It is true that scientific warnings of climate-model predicted catastrophes first cropped up over 25 years ago, and we are hearing more of the same today. In fact, in 2013 when I was considering writing a book about climate change, I drafted some preliminary thoughts to include in it. I addressed this issue in those notes:

“In the World Watch Institute’s annual publication, The State of the World, which I first read in 1989, Lester Brown wrote that the situation was becoming dire and we were running out of time. James Hansen, the famed NASA scientist echoed this sentiment in Congressional testimony in 1995. Tim Flannery in his book The Weather Makers said the same in 2005, and now Bill McKibben and a host of others reiterate this warning every day. For over 25 years most experts have been predicting that we were almost out of time. At some point we must conclude that either their earliest predictions were alarmist or we’ve already run out of time.”

So our friend was correct to imply that increasingly shrill, but constant, warnings over decades begin to feel like Chicken Little shrieking that the sky is falling. But the broader political context of such warnings demonstrate that something else is going on.

In this country the vast majority of scientists (who have based their dire forecasts on the predictive models they’ve studied) accept as a given the economic and social bases of Western Society. They haven’t only been saying “it is almost too late to avoid disaster.” Taken in context, their words actually mean, “If we find the political will to act quickly and decisively it is not too late to avoid civilization-destroying calamities within the framework of our capitalist system.”

Their repeated plaintive cries do not reflect their models’ exaggeration of predicted disasters. If anything, the models’ predictions have been too conservative. Things are getting worse, more quickly than expected. Rather, scientists are trapped by their inability to conceive of a way out of the mess we’ve gotten into that doesn’t fit within the parameters of our current economic system. The only choice offered by that perspective is either to repeat it is not too late or give up all hope.

But there is an alternative assessment: unless we junk our current system it is already too late.

I believe the only chance we have to avoid what our species will experience as unprecedented planetary disasters during this century is to abandon multi-national corporate capitalism and its accompanying military-industrial complex and consumption-driven excesses. This may not be sufficient, but it is necessary. That’s one reason why I say we have to reject politics as usual in order to defeat business as usual.  Read More 
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