Friday, January 1, 2010

It's Always the End of the World as We Know It

By New Zealand philosopher Denis Dutton

IT seems so distant, 1999. Bill Clinton had survived impeachment, his popularity hardly dented, Sept. 11 was just another date and music fans were enjoying a young singer named Britney Spears....

The Y2K catastrophe was promoted with increasing shrillness toward century’s end: headlines proclaimed a “computer time bomb” or “a date with disaster.” Vanity Fair’s January 1999 article “The Y2K Nightmare” caught the sensationalist tone, claiming that “folly, greed and denial” had “muffled two decades of warnings from technology experts.”

Among the most reviled of the Y2K deniers was Bill Gates, who not only declared that Microsoft’s PCs would take the date turnover in stride, but had the audacity to blame those who “love to tell tales of fear” for the worldwide anxiety. Mr. Gates’s denialism was ignored as governments and corporations set in place immensely expensive schemes to immunize systems against the Y2K bug.

They weren’t the only ones keen to get in on the end-time spirit. The Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested that Y2K would be the confirmation of Christian prophecy, “God’s instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation.” The Y2K crisis might incite a worldwide revival that would lead to “the rapture of the church.” Along with many survivalists, Mr. Falwell advised stocking up on food and guns.

And yes, we just lurch from one catastrophic "crisis," which is going to earn us our well merited reward for our greed and avarice, to another.

Glueball warmening and other environmental panics today are simply the most recent manifestation of this phenomenon.

As I've said before, what we are dealing with here is a secularised version of Christianity with a suitably modified Eschaton.
Apocalyptic scenarios are a diversion from real problems — poverty, terrorism, broken financial systems — needing intelligent attention. Even something as down-to-earth as the swine-flu scare has seemed at moments to be less about testing our health care system and its emergency readiness than about the fate of a diseased civilization drowning in its own fluids. We wallow in the idea that one day everything might change in, as St. Paul put it, the “twinkling of an eye” — that a calamity might prove to be the longed-for transformation. But turning practical problems into cosmic cataclysms takes us further away from actual solutions.

This applies, in my view, to the towering seas, storms, droughts and mass extinctions of popular climate catastrophism. Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment. As that headline put it for Y2K, predictions of the end of the world are often intertwined with condemnations of human “folly, greed and denial.” Repent and recycle!


What we badly need is the recovery of real environmentalism, one that is stripped of the 19th Century Romantic rejection of the modern world that lies at the ideological heart of the Greens, Greenpeace and other radical environmental movements.

I'm sure there is a place for sensible and economically sound recycling programs. Even if it has no affect on climate change whatsoever, we should be planting more trees.

One of the reasons I absolutely oppose crazy schemes to use green waste, food waste etc to either make ethanol or to make electricity by burning is that they are rich biological resources that should instead be composted and returned to our poor and infertile soils.

If we harnessed these things, instead of simply throwing them away, we could transform Australia.

We have a government willing to waste vast resources chasing the latest middle class panic of climate change, but which wont help farmers across the country in their efforts to heal and restore their damaged land.

And yet this is a real environmental outcome that is actually achievable and which will benefit us into the future.

Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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