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Monday, April 22, 2019

An #EarthDay reflection from Baltimore

Still waiting on our (late now on this end) moving truck, sleeping on an air mattress, hotspotting, sitting in fold-up camping chairs, and eating with plastic utensils. A laudatory Yelp review is increasingly unlikely.

I tweeted:

It's now up.

Read all of it carefully. Fine writing, astute, sobering reflections. Eventually none of us will escape the wrath of the unleashed Anthropocene, intractable dilettante denialisms notwithstanding.

See also Ron's excellent 2015 piece "The Sea Also Rises."

Relatedly, I'm well into Bill McKibbin's new book.

Thirty years ago Bill McKibben offered one of the earliest warnings about climate change. Now he broadens the warning: the entire human game, he suggests, has begun to play itself out.
Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking book The End of Nature -- issued in dozens of languages and long regarded as a classic -- was the first book to alert us to global warming. But the danger is broader than that: even as climate change shrinks the space where our civilization can exist, new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics threaten to bleach away the variety of human experience. 
Falter tells the story of these converging trends and of the ideological fervor that keeps us from bringing them under control. And then, drawing on McKibben’s experience in building, the first truly global citizens movement to combat climate change, it offers some possible ways out of the trap. We’re at a bleak moment in human history -- and we’ll either confront that bleakness or watch the civilization our forebears built slip away.

Falter is a powerful and sobering call to arms, to save not only our planet but also our humanity.
Is it too early to start drinking? (He asks, Samuel Adams Summer Ale already in hand.)


Still no moving van. Unreal. But, yesterday I at least got WiFi hooked up so we can quit piling up those exorbitant Verizon hotspotting bandwidth overage charges.

Eyeball deep into Bill McKibbin's book. This gentle man and astute analytical writer (my analogy is "the James Taylor of environmental journalism") has had death threats over his findings and views? Shameful.

Remediation time is seriously abating, at an accelerating pace. None of us may survive the worst of what looms, should our rigid aggregate denialism continue. McKibben concludes,
…So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact, as we’ve seen, we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. We could instead put a solar panel on the top of every last one of those roofs that I described at the opening of this book, and if we do, then we will have started in a different direction. We can engineer our children, at least a little now and doubtless more in the future—or we can decide not to. We can build our replacements in the form of ever-smarter robots, and we can try to keep ourselves alive as digitally preserved consciousnesses—or we can accept with grace that each of us has a moment and a place.

I do not know that we will make these choices. I rather suspect we won’t—we are faltering now, and the human game has indeed begun to play itself out. That’s what the relentless rise in temperature tells us, and the fact that we increasingly spend our days staring glumly at the rectangle in our palm. But we could make those choices. We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide.

We are messy creatures, often selfish, prone to short-sightedness, susceptible to greed. In a Trumpian moment with racism and nationalism resurgent, you could argue that our disappearance would be no great loss. And yet, most of us, most of the time, are pretty wonderful: funny, kind. Another name for human solidarity is love, and when I think about our world in its present form, that is what overwhelms me. The human love that works to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, the love that comes together in defense of sea turtles and sea ice and of all else around us that is good.

The love that lets each of us see we’re not the most important thing on earth, and makes us okay with that. The love that welcomes us, imperfect, into the world and surrounds us when we die.

Even—especially—in its twilight, the human game is graceful and compelling.

McKibben, Bill. Falter (pp. 255-256). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
Taking it back to the top,
Thirty years ago, in 1989, I wrote the first book for a wide audience on climate change—or, as we called it then, the greenhouse effect. As the title indicates, The End of Nature was not a cheerful book, and sadly its gloom has been vindicated. My basic point was that humans had so altered the planet that not an inch was beyond our reach, an idea that scientists underlined a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene

This volume is bleak as well—in some ways bleaker, because more time has passed and we are deeper in the hole. It offers an account of how the climate crisis has progressed and of the new technological developments in fields such as artificial intelligence that also seem to me to threaten a human future. Put simply, between ecological destruction and technological hubris, the human experiment is now in question. The stakes feel very high, and the odds very long, and the trends very ominous. So, I have no doubt that there are other books that would offer readers a merrier literary experience. [ibid, pg. 1]
 The span between these excerpts is depressingly compelling. See also

Another scary read.

More to come...

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