There is no doubt that we live in a world today, Saturday 27th April 2019 at 12h15, in which we suffer from information overload. Whatever your perspective on an issue, there will always be multiple examples of expert evidence to confirm your beliefs.
I am not sure if it is my chronological age or the era in which I live, that has caused me to suffer, for the first time in my life, from a degree of existential angst. A strong feeling of what can I personally do to fight the decisions of politicians who continue to feather their own nest at the expense of the future health of the planet. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live on an Earth where the quality of life has been compromised or even jeopardised if they do not realistically deal with the ecological threats of today
Pinker and Enlightenment Now
It was with some relief that I was internalising some of the reassurances offered by Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now,” subtitled The case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I was starting to be persuaded in his latest book that the average person was worrying too much about the potential disasters of climate change.
He has followed up his optimistic view of the benefits of a contemporary lifestyle which he elaborated on in a heartening exposition in his previous book, “The Better Angels of our Nature.” In this previous work, Pinker explores the everyday safety in which we live today, as opposed to in the past eras. I was happily reassured by his rationale and the evidence he brought to the table. Pinker persuaded me that life today is safer than it has ever been, and the percentage of the world’s population actively engaged in a war situation is proportionately lower than in any past era.
My fair in “Enlightenment Now” was shattered however then my monthly blog arrived from Jules Evans ( whose website you can find at www.philosophyforlife.org,) and his pessimistic, or potentially realistic, assessment entitled “Is Extinction Rebellion Self-Indulgent Therapy?”
Evans described how shocked he was to listen this week to David Attenborough eloquently describe on the BBC, just how significant the current temperature changes have been in devastating the tranquillity of earth’s balance of nature. The measurement of the atmosphere as 1 degree warmer, has resulted in wildfires in Australia and California, storms and floods in India, Mozambique, Mid-West USA, and Ottawa. What Attenborough did not mention is that Cape Town, South Africa where I live, has suffered a drought the past few years which has resulted in water rationing becoming a ubiquitous feature of our everyday life. Water restrictions for our gardens are now a permanent part of our horticultural management system, whilst the use of water in the household is strictly rationed and very expensive. Washing dishes is a once a day operation, and daily showers are obsolete!
Evans carries on to remind us what was said in 2008 by James Lovelock. “Enjoy life whilst you can,” said Lovelock, “in 20 years global warming will hit the fan.” Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in the South of England since the 1960s with consistent accuracy. Whilst he may be a bit of a maverick, he is one of Britain’s most respected independent scientists.
For 10 days last week, thousands of activists unleashed strategic disorder in London to draw attention to the accelerating climate crisis. This coordinated effort was organised by Extinction Rebellion, a movement which was founded last year and is targeting the British Government to achieve net-zero greenhouse emission by the year 2030. More than 1,000 protesters submitted to arrest after barricading roads, bridges and other city landmarks.
The eloquent 16 year old Swedish Activist Greta Thurnberg addressed the crowds and in simple and persuasive language described what she sees as the role of her generation. She said, “We have gathered here today because we have chosen the path we want to take. Together we will make a difference. The ecological crisis remains despite all the beautiful words. The crisis has been ignored for decades. The politicians and people of power have got away with not doing anything at all, but we will make sure they will not get away with it any longer. Humanity now stands at a crossroads………………………”
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Steven Pinker, on the other hand, urges us, “to step back from the lurid headlines and prophecies of doom, which bring out the worst in our psychological biases.” He believes that with the scientific knowledge at our disposal today, we will be able to control the malevolent forces of carbon dioxide which threatens to irrevocably pollute our environment.
Should you choose to read over 400 pages of Pinker’s positive rationale, together with the accompanying 75 graphs illustrating a thesis of continuous human improvements in living standards, you may be comforted by his perspective that mankind has overcome all the challenges of the past, so why should the environmental challenges of today be any different. I would like to accept Pinker’s perspective, but am more inclined to vote with the young Swedish activist!