Monday, September 12. 2005
Here's a rather apocalyptic quote from Bill McKibben, writing for TomDispatch:
McKibben's book, The End of Nature (1987), was one of the first important arguments made about the dangers of global warming caused by humans burning fossil fuels. I read it in the mid-'90s on an August trip to Florida, where the local (if not global) warming was quite a revelation -- a model to make sense of the coming world. McKibben is a writer I don't quite trust, but can't quite dismiss either. The science he writes about has only grown more convincing over the years. The metaphors are something else. Nature may have ended if we view nature as a global system independent from human effects, but if that's the definition it ended long ago -- and by many measure, including human longevity and population levels, one can argue it's a good thing. One can also argue that nature hasn't ended at all: nature continues in ever new forms as we perturb it, its newness upsetting our understanding of how it works. McKibben aludes to this when he talks about once-per-century storms becoming once-per-decade storms. But what happened to New Orleans had more to do with local and national breakdowns in our political and economic system than it had to do with global anthropogenic effects on climate. The real fear is not so much that nature is going to become deadlier as that we might lose our ability to understand and respond to its challenges.
To do so in what stands to be an increasingly perilous world, we're going to have to get smarter -- which includes more mutual support, fairness, justice, and a better understanding of what technology can and cannot do. Otherwise McKibben's prediction stands a good chance of becoming true. The shocking thing about Katrina wasn't the power of the storm so much as the utter breakdown in competency in response to it. That represents a much more urgent problem than global warming, and perhaps more important as well. I don't discount global warming: I think it is real now, and going to get worse, and I really doubt that there's much that can be done to slow it let alone to reverse it. On the other hand, what we can learn to do is to respond better to both the ordinary and catastrophic events it worsens. If we don't, McKibben is sure to be right.
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