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.