A friend emailed me about it yesterday and I responded with the same views above. Then I found the story in other papers, finally in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.
This morning I realized that perhaps it is time we had this conversation, unpleasant as it may be.
The Guardian story concerns an elderly social scientist from London, 86-year old Mayer Hillman.
We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”
Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his “last will and testament”. His last intervention in public life. “I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.I agree with Hillman. I think it's likely - not yet certain, but likely - that the die is cast. A few years ago I joined the Dark Mountain project after reading their manifesto. It's a group of environmental activists and writers who are tired of the lies civilization tells itself to cope with the reality that we are now living in an age of disintegration, a time of ongoing loss.
A year ago (less one day) I wrote this:
The thing about Dark Mountain is that it's not an act of capitulation as Naomi Klein maintains. It's not some nihilistic cult. It's about continuing to fight the good fight but from a somewhat better place, liberated from anxious but wholly unrealistic hope and delusion.As I told my friend yesterday, I'm still fighting for the margins. That's the spread between the difficult world our children will inherit if we start doing the right things and the far more hellish world we may bequeath to them if we don't. We cannot give them the world as we knew it in the 60s but we can give them a world much worse than need be if we continue to allow this disgusting petro-state, Stephen Harper's Canada and Justin Trudeau's Canada to be our Canada.
It is also liberation from partisan political pandering. It is a place from which one can put the nation and its people above political parties. After all, somebody has to stand up for our society, for our young people and generations yet unborn. Our politicians won't. Stephen Harper didn't. Justin Trudeau isn't.
Edmund Burke wrote of man's fundamental duty to leave the world a better place for his children. Teddy Roosevelt echoed this in his Square Deal speech. Today we have broken that fundamental law and largely with neither guilt nor shame. The world we leave is a far worse place than the world we inherited from our parents and grandparents. We trashed the place like a Vandal horde but not all of it, not yet.
Mayer Hillman shares this concern for our next generations.
Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100. “This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical.”
Global emissions were static in 2016 but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, the highest level for at least three million years (when sea levels were up to 20m higher than now). Concentrations can only drop if we emit no carbon dioxide whatsoever, says Hillman. “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return.”
...the world’s population must globally move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and reduce our human population too. Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”
Hillman doubts that human ingenuity can find a fix and says there is no evidence that greenhouse gases can be safely buried. But if we adapt to a future with less – focusing on Hillman’s love and music – it might be good for us. “And who is ‘we’?” asks Hillman with a typically impish smile. “Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”The last fight is the battle for the margins.
Hillman accuses all kinds of leaders – from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.”
Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.
Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”The fight for the margins is a worthwhile fight. You know what you're fighting for - our grandkids and their future - and you know just who you're up against. Call them out, face them down, push back.