Tue Sep 19th, 2006 at 07:49:33 AM EST
The internets are full of words and warnings about Professor James Lovelock's latest book ("The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity.") and his views, and his C.V., and his credibility. Most of these essays and comments explore how to dismiss, disprove or ignore him. Or, how to whistle into the abyss he has revealed. Or, how to survive what he describes is coming, if it comes. When it comes.
Well, he is talking plainly about hell AND high water, and right soon, he is. He is talking about only two hundred million humans surviving this century we've already begun, and only by migrating to a newly temperate North Pole to grow food as we can manage. He's talking about seriously scary stuff.
The editorial and blog reactions to his tome are uniformly hasty brews of false bravado and fear. To paraphrase Woody Allen somewhat, 'I don't fear the end of my species -- I just don't want to he there when it happens.'
Or, to quote Daffy Duck directly, "I'm not like other people -- I don't LIKE pain."
For who truly fears a killer asteroid, or an H-bomb? How do you fear such a thing? It's extremely unlikely; you don't see it coming, and you're only there for a millisecond before -- poof! It's quick and painless.
But guaranteed death? By the billions? Over a century? That's sounds like a personal prescription for Death by Discomfort, the worst way a human can go. Better a bullet in the brain pan than hunger, cold, wet, or slowly succumbing to the galloping shits. Yet, that is what Professor Lovelock predicts, based on hard facts and figures.
Certain, slow, hard death. For you. For me. For everyone we know, and everyone we love.
Human nature being what it is, the unspoken aim behind most lively Lovelock discussions is, 'how might I find MYSELF among the lucky creatures at the North Pole, still eating well and making babies after this mass extinction unpleasantness is all tidied up? What about ME?'
The very thought that occurs to every sentient pig in the trailer as their Peterbilt rig pulls into the abatoir. These other pigs are goners, for sure. But I've got a plan.'
People do have plans for surviving Lovelock's Lament. The internet tubes are full of them. Most involve five acres, a paid mortgage, some fruit trees and a picket fence.
Lord! Do they write these things as tragedy? Or farce?
Fortunately, these are just the opening reactions to the bad news from St. Giles On The Heath. In days ahead, we will hear more thoughtful responses and discussions, taking into account that warlords and cannibalism are rather more likely than picket fences.
But Lo! the global warming discussion just got one hell of a jolt. Which is all to the good.
Because the prime and lasting value of Lovelock's book is to stain the trousers and skirts of walking apes everywhere -- of humanity. Getting ourselves off our collective duff is the most critical, most healthy, most sane thing that can happen at this juncture. If the threat of imminent death by discomfort is what it takes, well, someday we can all tell our grandkids that's what it took.
Only fear will start the herd towards a safer and more comfortable pasture, away up North where grass doesn't grow.
We're all human. So our first reaction to this scenario will be fear -- maintaining our life. Our second will be concern for maintaining our comfort level (planning for picket fences at the North Pole). Our third will be progeny -- will our children, our knowledge, our legacy survive?
Factually, we can start right now to step beyond the fear reactions:
One, the stark choice of whether it is too late to do a damned thing about global warming is moot. Even if it is too late to avoid a wild ride, it is not too late to work on reducing the effects we have set in motion, nor is it too late to save as many people, and as much of our human heritage, as possible. As people get over their initial fear, they will see surviving this as a species as a gigantic job to be done, and we will start to see results in this direction.
Owning and operating Spaceship Earth will emerge as the guiding principle. The First Directive.
For example, atmosphere CO2 scrubbers will be a growth industry in a few years, kind of like blogging in the 'Ought decade of the 21st century.
Two, if things proceed as the Professor predicts, and especially if people begin to die by the hundred million, nations and regions will circle the wagons and begin to command their populations and resources in detail.
To what aim? Certainly not plutocracy or oligarchy or theocracy or ideology of any faith or flavor. That won't last to the weekend.
No, the aim will not be the comfort, or survival of the elites or of anyone in particular -- it will be 'saving the best of ourselves' for better times. Bunker mentality, yes, but with a noble purpose of rising above the situation. Lifeboat mentality, with everyone in it for the whole nine yards, for one another, for common goals instead of private ones. You've seen this at work in every beseiged wartime population, historically.
Three, the warlords and the dispossessed. With entire nations, and regional alliances, vying for territory, resources and survival there will be zero patience or sympathy for outsiders, nor for charity toward them. When the societal goal is preserving the best of the human experiment, no one will countenance bringing along the unskilled, unlearned, sick, weak, or hungry.
Mercy has never been the human forte. It never will be. It was always a luxury, and will continue to be one. Warlords will rise and rule for a time among refugee populations. They will not be tolerated among or against the civilized enclaves striving to preserve knowledge, wisdom and technology.
Fourth, science and religion -- the true battle of civilizations. People everywhere will always want to live in myths about reality rather than reality, just as they always have and as they do today. It's a human trait too deep in our brain stems to eradicate. But, as the survival of some remnant of our species on a broken down Spaceship Earth becomes the collective goal, the one true goal, religions that do not serve this goal will erase themselves or be erased.
No biggie. Religions are far more adjustable than factual. One of the chief virtues of a good story is that it grows up as you do.
Conspiracies? Dark legions of evil plotters? Are there plans among the elites to save the elites only? To premptively nuke competitors? To starve whole continents? To release genetic plagues that only kill Chinese, or blacks, or Russians, or Arabs, or short people with too much back hair?
So what if there are? No plan survives first contact with the enemy.
We are the enemy. And we have been contacted. No plan is going to proceed as planned, especially not any kind of Us versus Them plan. Not on Lifeboat Earth. The wealthy and the learned had better roll up their sleeves and pitch in with the rest of us, or it's over the side in a hurry -- the same choice you and I face. The only plan that will proceed as expected is the plan to work together.
The only certainty is that whomsoever does stand among those fabled 200 million at the North Pole, when they finally do ring in the 22nd Century about four score and fourteen from now -- they will not be warlords, wealthy, blue bloods, refugees, religiously insane, stupid, starving, or plain dumb lucky. None of the above.
They will be, the the very last one of them, people who relentlessly qualified themselves and cooperated on getting themselves there. They will be people who pulled all together, and only all together. And they will each and every one of them hold the gift of knowledge, wisdom, and earned experience left behind by the millions of human beings who helped get them there, or gave them something to carry forward.
There's your work. There's your job. You won't be there. You won't make it, not unless you are young enough to still be reading books about Dick, Jane, and Spot. But you can make it happen, and you can make your mark upon it.