Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

We Broke the World

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The only hope for human civilization lies in a radical, abrupt, and probably violent transformation of that very civilization. Failing this, we all face—all humanity—within our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children—a catastrophic collapse of the biosphere upon which human life depends. This collapse is deeply entangled with but not the same as the ongoing transformation in the global climate system. Climate change is third on the IPBES’s list of the five major direct drivers of biodiversity collapse, having less impact than both changes in land and sea use and the direct exploitation of organisms. And this climate transformation is going to further exacerbate ecological collapse while also bringing to bear immense and widespread pressure on worldwide agriculture and infrastructure.

Yet our bias toward presence and the present makes all of this alarming talk, however emotionally provocative, seem nonetheless always a touch fantastic. Like the academics of the IPBES, most of us are going to go on about our business within the structural and conceptual constraints of the societies in which we live, even as those societies are threatened with existential collapse, even if we happen to know it. The leap to radical resistance or radical disengagement is too great for most of us to make.

We live uneasily the only way we know how, ever more anxious that the earth under our feet is turning to quicksand, while a fierce wind howls at the horizon. Hauling oneself out of one’s elemental presence-ism and presentism is nearly impossible: all the institutions, structures, and systems we live within are predicated on the indefinite persistence of the present. These are the structures and systems and institutions that give our choices meaning, connect us with each other, allow us to see our lives not as transient, atomistic accidents but as coherent, organic parts of a greater whole. Yet as the world changes around us, we are increasingly aware that something is wrong: the future isn’t what it used to be, and the temporal stability we depend on to give our present reality the illusion of persistence seems less and less reliable. We begin to wonder whether thinking fifty, thirty, twenty, or even five years into the future makes any sense, since the global transformation that seems to be steadily approaching—whether for good or for ill, through revolution or through collapse—will overturn everything we hold dear. We find ourselves existentially threatened by ecological collapse and climate change not only in the material sense that it will lead to vast human suffering and billions of deaths but also in a philosophical or psychological sense, in that the promise of imminent catastrophe—or revolution—threatens to make our present day-to-day life meaningless.

We Broke the World.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 4, 2019 at 9:05 am

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