Timothy Morton – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Climate Change

Timothy Morgon

Stuart Lyle

Just how catastrophic is climate change for humans, and for all living things on Earth?  There are plenty writers, like the independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who are now beginning to document the full impact of climate disruption.

If you swipe away the climate-change deniers as nothing more than self-serving toadies to a generation of fossil-fuel businesses willing to put their short-term gain ahead of all future generations, then you are left to ponder the existential question, “what can be done to stop this madness?”

What if the answer is nothing, or at least very little?  That’s one of Timothy Morton’s claims reported in a non-academic article and podcast.  Morton is a philosopher and Rice University Professor with a penchant for provocative thought.  It is his view that the damage has been done.  We have entered the new Anthropocene era of earth’s history based on the massive release of carbon and other climate-changing human activities over the last few centuries. Human’s believed they were masters of the planet, but

in the Anthropocene, Morton says, we must wake up to the fact that we never stood apart from or controlled the non-human things on the planet, but have always been thoroughly bound up with them. We can’t even burn, throw or flush things away without them coming back to us in some form, such as harmful pollution. Our most cherished ideas about nature and the environment – that they are separate from us, and relatively stable – have been destroyed.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be working to reduce the ongoing damage, but it’s unsettling to face up to the fact that the efforts we are making now are too little, too late to return the earth the relatively health stability of the Holocene era.

Tragically, it is only by despoiling the planet that we have realised just how much a part of it we are.

With that awareness comes a responsibility.  We know we have screwed up, now what can we do about it?  The real insight from Morton is to put what is happening into epochal context.  This is something that is going to have an impact on human society, if it survives, for hundreds of generations to come.

This leads Morton to one of his most sweeping claims: that the Anthropocene is forcing a revolution in human thought. Advances in science are now underscoring how “enmeshed” we are with other beings – from the microbes that account for roughly half the cells in our bodies, to our reliance for survival on the Earth’s electromagnetic heat shield.

There is a certain optimism in the conclusions he draws from this:

This means changing our relationship with the other entities in the universe – whether animal, vegetable or mineral – from one of exploitation through science to one of solidarity in ignorance. If we fail to do this, we will continue to wreak havoc on the planet, threatening the ways of life we hold dear, and even our very existence. In contrast to utopian fantasies that we will be saved by the rise of artificial intelligence or some other new technology, the Anthropocene teaches us that we can’t transcend our limitations or our reliance on other beings. We can only live with them.

3 thoughts on “Timothy Morton – Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Climate Change

  1. I have been aware of all these meta-issues for decades now. Unfortunately for all us passengers on Spaceship Earth, no one has had the wisdom to put me in charge! It is well understood by scientists that global warming has a ripple, or run-on, or snowball rolling down the hill gathering more mass to itself, etc. effect. Pick your metaphor. What is truly unsettling is that it has only begun, we ain’t seen nothing yet! And if the utterly impossible feat of halting production of all additional greenhouse gases in an instant could be achieved, the effects of the cumulative damage to the planet to date would still ripple on and on into the future. Holocaust by nuclear war is a possibility, but not a certainty. Holocaust by human impact on the planet (being called by some the Sixth Mass Extinction Event) IS that certainty. The only sensible action that can be taken at this point is to try to SLOW the accumulation of further damage. Shall we look to our brilliant government in Washington DC for salvation? Oh, boy! Guess what, folks? Albert Albert Gore, Jr. did pretty much nothing on environmental issues while he served in the shadow of Bill Clinton–nothing other than flap his gums, at any rate. Had SCOTUS allowed him to take his seat in the Oval Office in 2001, guess what? He would have done pretty much nothing. Can Hillary save us? Can Bernie save us? People are easily inured to disasters, especially here in the age of instantaneous communications. Another major mass shootings event? Fifty-eight dead in Vegas didn’t bring any real movement toward stricter firearms control. The polar ice caps are melting at twice the rate previously anticipated? Ho-hum. Oh, look! A new Cardi B controversy! Let’s follow that story! I am sorry I can’t post a cheerful, upbeat comment on this subject. It just wouldn’t be appropriate!

  2. greglaxer, strongly agree! Decades back while in college, saw two films that took me into another dimension of thought and perception: “Soylent Green” and “Silent Running,” flawed movies but with a strong ecological point. After that, bought the most fuel-efficient cars on the market, drove a bike wherever possible, recycled, and took ZPG seriously. Problem, we live under an ideology labeled capitalism. It relies on extraction to promote wealth for a couple of thousand families on the planet, selling the processed extracts for a “profit.” it co-opts folks with the promise of wealth by engaging them as co-extractors, co-processors and co-salesmen of the processed items–these latter labeled “commodities.”
    Mountains of copper, iron, silver, gold, coal, etc. get leveled. Thousands of square miles of beautiful forests, trees get mowed down. Pipes get sunk deep into the earth to extract oil that’s lain undisturbed for millions of years. Meadows get plowed and eroded, our land, rivers and the air we breath get contaminated with the remnants from this voracious, careless extraction. Overharvesting of fish from our oceans goes on. Capitalism, with its corollary tenet of “consumption” and ever-expanding “markets” _lies_ about the Malthusian consequences of runaway, but extremely profitable, population growth, abetted by corporate-fueled government policies and, tragically, co-opted religions.
    When socialist China decided that “capitalism and international markets were good” it re-ignited the horrors of the worst of the west’s “Industrial revolution”–with a vengeance.
    Sorry to sound like a downer but as long as our seriously-indoctrinated voting majorities continue to fall for the corporate party line of “profits” as mouthed by corporate-“sponsored” political sock-puppets who enact laws that subsidize, promote, and canonize extractive policies, we are all doomed…
    Be well.

    • “This just in”: Mitch McConnell is pressing for the US Senate to vote very soon on “The New Green Deal” proposed legislation. You could actually hear him sneer in the audio as he spoke the words “new green deal.” Why the haste? He knows the GOP-dominated Senate will trash the very concept, making further pursuit of it in the House a moot matter. Meanwhile ex-StarBUCKS CEO Howard Schultz reportedly has denounced “The New Green Deal” as “immoral”!! What could be on this gentleman’s mind? Obviously he senses a threat to profits (coffee cultivation is not exactly eco-friendly as practiced in our times) and is haunted by the specter of “wealth redistribution” arising from the proposal.

      Relatively recently my favorite TV show, “The Simpsons,” presented what initially seemed like a totally bizarre fantasy storyline. The family found itself living in a socio-economic environment resembling feudalism. It eventually became clear that this was a metaphor for our current lives under capitalism. This was the crux of the episode: the Simpsons serfs continued to suffer the lash of cruel exploitation and dismissed as CRAZY the notion that there could possibly be A BETTER SYSTEM!! Nay, even simply A DIFFERENT SYSTEM. And this is contemporary American society in a nutshell. I see young people posting comments on Facebook that indicate to me that they have already allowed themselves to be stuffed into a box of conformity outside of which thinking is VERBOTEN. I find this very sad and indicative of a bleak future, indeed. Your Ordinary Jane and Joe have been brainwashed into believing that a “greener” lifestyle will force terrible sacrifices on their parts, in their own lives. And so, sea levels will continue to rise at an accelerating pace, storms will become ever more deadly and chemicals that alter our genes will continue to be dumped into the environment. Three cheers for Free Enterprise!

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