Friday, August 14, 2009

Dealing with despair and cynicism

Sorry about the title, hardly appropriate for such a lovely sunny day, but oh well. I am including some nice flower pictures to counteract the heavy topic...

Having access to high speed internet for a short while allows me to feed my addiction to websurfing and blog-browsing. My Firefox Bookmarks list of favourite blogs is quite long, and with my dial-up access I have had to create a short list of blogs I cannot live without. Thus leaving out quite a few that I wish I could keep up with. So I have been browsing the long list.

One blog on my long list is The Great Change by Albert Bates, who I met a few years ago while spending the summer at The Farm in Tennessee. I don't always agree with his opinions but he is very knowledgeable, an interesting writer, and one shouldn't always read only what one agrees with, should one? His latest post among other things is about his own personal existential crisis, one I can relate to since it frequently crosses my mind too.

Albert starts out describing a grim prognosis for the future of the Earth, the overwhelming evidence and scientific opinion that we face massive extinction of life in very short order, including not only humans and other large critters but also fungi and microbes (life on Earth might benefit from the extinction of humans, but definitely not from the extinction of fungi and microbes). Then he posts an endearing photo of his three-year old grandchild, someone who might very well grow up to observe and participate in said extinction.

My own opinion is sadly similar, where I think I part company with Albert is that I think it is irresponsible to hammer on that opinion incessantly. I do think we are on the brink of the ultimate disaster, if not sliding inevitably into it. I have grandchildren I fear for. But I cannot see the future, I do not know for sure that the End Times are upon us, it just feels like it. So knowing and feeling that, what is one to do?

Albert provides an answer to that question for himself and I think it is a good one. He starts with a quote that I really like, a peyote prayer: "I am going to follow God, I am going to follow God, I am not turning back." I'll let you go over to his blog to read the rest...

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Not too long ago I heard an interview with Dr. James Lovelock, by Anne-Marie Tremonte, the host of CBC's The Current. He is the originator of The Gaia Hypothesis (that the Earth functions like a living organism, sometimes misunderstood as the Earth is a living organism), and just celebrated his 90th birthday in July. He published a book a few years ago called The Revenge of Gaia that very much perturbed many environmental and climate change activists because he came out solidly in favour of greatly expanding our reliance on nuclear energy as quickly as possible. He has another book out now, The Vanishing Face of Gaia.

At any rate, I found that interview profoundly uplifting, although a neighbour who also listened to it found it profoundly depressing. Quite the fellow that he can evoke both feelings at the same time!

What my neighbour found depressing was his insistence that we are past the point of return with climate change, it's all downhill from here and very few people will survive it. He said that all efforts to avert disaster are too late and a waste of time; we would be far better off putting our efforts toward figuring out how to adapt to and survive the coming drastic changes than trying to prevent them.

But interestingly he does not take a stance of blame on this. I have grown tired of listening to doomsayers who castigate the selfishness and downright short-sighted evilness of humans for creating this situation. So I am happy that he agrees with me on that (excuse my arrogance!). He said that in fact if you want to point your finger at any one cause of drastic climate change on the Earth, far better to point at algae rather than humans.

Several billion years ago the algae very nearly did cause the permanent extinction of all life on Earth. We weren't around at the time so we are largely unaware of how close it really was, but the climate change that occurred in that era was far more awesome than what is now predicted on the basis of human efforts. We got nothing on the lowly algae!

The other thing that he said when Anne-Marie asked him if we deserved to suffer the consequences of our ignorant actions was, Oh no! We are the crowning achievement of Mother Nature! It is to be fervently hoped that we will survive, because we really are worth saving. And this is what I found to be most uplifting, that he does not consign us ignorant human beings to the deepest circle of Hell for what we have done to the Earth, but rather fervently hopes for our survival and even transcendence of the current predicament, because we are worth it.

How 'bout them apples, huh?

My own opinion on that matter is that we are like teenagers, we revel in our new-found (relatively speaking) powers, believe we are immortal, and wreak havoc as a result. A hundred years ago, who knew that we were already on the brink of climate change disaster?!? Fifty years ago? It's easy and even satisfying to point the finger of blame, but what good does it do?

Lovelock still comes out in favour of nuclear energy because he believes that it is the quickest way to switch away from carbon dioxide releasing fossil fuels. He also points to statistics that show that so far it is the safest form of energy production we currently have. He does not suggest that this is a permanent solution to our energy needs, but rather it is a stopgap solution to buy us some time to come up with a longterm solution.

I have read some recent and not-so-recent reviews of Lovelock's work and on the basis of this interview I think that what he is saying is largely misunderstood. Personally, I have huge admiration for the man and he is just about the only thing that gives me hope for the future of my grandchildren, for all the grandchildren.

Let me rephrase that. Not that Lovelock will single-handedly save the world, but rather that he points to the possibility of a positive outcome from a very bleak situation. I know that there are many people quietly and not-so-quietly working toward that end, and their efforts will be what brings that positive outcome to pass, if it is to happen at all. Those people are very much deserving of my/our admiration, maybe even more so. But I admire Lovelock for his lifetime body of work, his realistic but hopeful attitude, and his efforts to communicate that.


Wisewebwoman said...

Oh, it is so good to find another Lovelock fan! While in Dublin recently a friend called him a 'nutter' and I just shut up (he was my host, I had no choice!)
I will head over to the blog you recommend now, Annie.

Barbara Anne said...

Very interesting, Anne. I'd not heard of Mr. (Dr.?) Lovelock. I remember the Star Trek movie where humans were seen as the infestation.

Nonetheless, I have hope for all of the children and grandchildren. If only we adults don't teach hate...


Annie said...

WWW, I don't know if there is a podcast or something of that interview but I am sure you would have enjoyed it. Lovelock just sounded so sensible!

Barbara Anne, I agree with you on that one for sure! Sometimes it seems like hate is the easy way, love is the hard way, but frankly, it's the only way out.

20th Century Woman said...

Looking back is so much simpler than predicting the future. We know that the climate is changing, and we know there are dangers for human life, and for life itself. But we can't foresee exactly what the effects of climate change will be or how life (and humans) will respond. At some time it will all come to an end. Us, and life. We can only try to keep it going as long as possible. All each of us can do is try to live responsibly and treat our world gently.

A thought provoking post, Annie.