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On the Edge


When I hear the phrase “on the edge,” the irresistible image is the proverbial lemmings marching resolutely to the cliff.

For the first time in history, humans are now poised to destroy the prospects for decent existence, and much of life. The rate of species destruction today is at about the level of 65 million years ago, when a major catastrophe, probably a huge asteroid, ended the age of the dinosaurs, opening the way for mammals to proliferate. The difference is that today we are the asteroid, and the way will very likely be opened to beetles and bacteria when we have done our work.

Geologists break up the history of the planet into eras of relative stability. The Pleistocene, lasting several million years, was following by the Holocene about 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the human invention of agriculture. Today, many geologists add a new epoch, the Anthropocene, beginning with the industrial revolution, which has radically changed the natural world. In the light of the pace of change, one hates to think when the next epoch will begin, and what it will be.

One effect of the Anthropocene is the extraordinary rate of species extinction. Another is the threat to ourselves. No literate person can fail to be aware that we are facing a prospect of severe environmental disaster, with effects that are already detectable and that might become dire within a few generations if current tendencies are not reversed.

That is not all. For the past 70 years we have been living under the threat of instant and virtually total destruction, at our own hands. Those familiar with the shocking record, which continues until this day, will find it hard to contest the conclusions of General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, which has responsibility for nuclear weapons. He writes that we have so far survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” It is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far, and the longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

We might wish to consider a remarkable paradox of the current era. There are some who are devoting serious efforts to avert impending disaster. In the lead are the most oppressed segments of the global population, those considered to be the most backward and primitive: the indigenous societies of the world, from First Nations in Canada, to aboriginals in Australia, to tribal people in India, and many others. In countries with influential indigenous populations, like Bolivia and Ecuador, there is by now legislative recognition of rights of nature. The government of Ecuador actually proposed to leave their supplies of oil in the ground, where they should be, if the rich countries would provide them development aid amounting to a small fraction of what they would sacrifice by not exploiting their oil resources. The rich countries refused.

While indigenous people are trying to avert the disaster, in sharp contrast, the race toward the cliff is led by the most advanced, educated, wealthy, and privileged societies of the world, primarily North America.

There is now much exuberance in the United States about “100 years of energy independence” as we become “the Saudi Arabia of the next century.” One might take a speech of President Obama’s two years ago to be an eloquent death-knell for the species. He proclaimed with pride, to ample applause, that “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

The applause tells us something important about our social and moral malaise. The President was speaking in Cushing Oklahoma, an “oil town” as he announced in greeting his appreciative audience—in fact the oil town, described as “the most significant trading hub for crude oil in North America.” And industry profits are sure to be secured as “producing more oil and gas here at home” will continue to be “a critical part” of energy strategy, as the President promised.

A few days ago the New York Times had an energy supplement, 8 pages of mostly euphoria about the bright future for the US, poised to be the world’s greatest producer of fossil fuels. Missing is any reflection of what kind of world we are exuberantly creating. One might recall Orwell’s observations in his (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm on how in free England, unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force, not least because immersion in the elite culture instills the understanding that there are certain things “it wouldn’t do to say”—or even to think.

In the moral calculus of currently prevailing state capitalism, profits and bonuses in the next quarter greatly outweigh concern for the welfare of one’s grandchildren, and since these are institutional maladies, they will not be easy to overcome. While much remains uncertain, we can assure ourselves, with fair confidence, that future generations will not forgive us our silence and apathy.

6 Comments

  1. Gerry Conroy May 12, 2014 12:22 pm 

    Chomsky:

    “… they will not be easy to overcome. While much remains uncertain, we can assure ourselves, with fair confidence, that future generations will not forgive us our silence and apathy.”

    Chomsky finishes with an entreaty. ;)

  2. joseph benny May 12, 2014 7:52 am 

    Of late, warnings about impending environmental apocalypse have been gathering steam. These warnings have become a cry in the wilderness. Little is done to protect the nature. This is because governments are remote-controlled by big ticket business lobbies. For this democracy is to be blamed. To find a lasting solution to this vexed issue, democracy has be replaced and private properties have to be abolished. Then the question is who will bell the cat? An alternative economic thinking has to be evolved. If would be interesting to find out how the business lobby is trying to take forward capitalism to the next level, when the environmental apocalypse is fallen on the earth!

    share your views on odd1outblog.wordpress.com

  3. avatar
    James Wilson May 11, 2014 10:31 pm 

    People are a waste of food
    You’ll never hear the end
    They’re only ever happy
    When they’re burying their friends
    And they take take take
    But they never take a hint
    The ice caps getting skinny
    Still they’re not concerned
    They’re very near extinct

    People are a waste of food
    The end is nearly nigh
    They’ve always said the sky would fall
    Now it is you have to wonder why
    You want to shrink your stinky footprint?
    Get your tubes tied
    Or even better yet
    Go commit suicide
    They can’t say you didn’t try

    And oh my,
    Well i hear the sound of horses’ hooves
    Come the middle of the night
    And oh my,
    Its time to get your gun license
    I see four horsemen riding through
    A cold and endless night

    If money is the root of evil
    Fear of death is worse
    This mortal coil is not a test
    And you can’t hide in a purse
    So don’t go casting no dispersions in the street
    ‘Cause the half the world that starves
    Will know the half you’re in
    Does not deserve to eat

    And oh my,
    Well i hear the sound of horses’ hooves
    Come the middle of the night
    And oh my,
    It’s time to get your gun license
    I see four horsemen riding through
    A cold and endless night

    People are a waste of food
    Don’t bother learning Chinese
    Thou shalt find oneself perturbed
    By less verbose calamities
    Just get some Heinz baked beans,
    A 12 gauge, bandolier and tinned dog food
    We’ll eat your dog, bury our dead
    Or eat them instead
    That’s entirely up to you

    And oh my,
    I hear the sound of unshod hooves come the middle of the night
    And oh why
    Well, from now on ’til your grandkids finally get what you deserve
    I’m going to be stuck here with you wookies
    Eating fortune cookies
    Until my guts churn

    Gareth Lydiard- The Drones

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=K6T1Xzda6cM

  4. Jim Flavin May 11, 2014 9:48 pm 

    ”that future generations will not forgive us our silence and apathy.”
    How many future generations will there be ??????.

    The Naked Ape is a herd animal – and will always [ in most cases ] follow those with the most money or weapons , which include media weapons .
    The Naked Ape will not last forever – obviously – but now it looks like it may disappear sooner rather than later -.its tough on those indigenous people who have not abused their resources – and if u want to see how wonderful they are watch Human Planet .

    My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains: round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
    Shelley .

    The planet will – if it could speak – be glad to see the end of us . A herd that refused to use their brains except for Autonomic purposes to a large extent .— like a Mercedes parked in a garage for 80 -90 years or more .A near total waste .

  5. David Dobereiner May 11, 2014 8:07 pm 

    The tragedy is that by the time New York, London, Holland, Florida and Bangladesh are under water it will be too late to force the systemic changes that would have been necessary to save them.

  6. Joseph Val May 11, 2014 2:32 pm 

    lemmings to the last
    ferociously 4-wheeling cliffward
    propounding loud the great achievements of lemmingdom
    secretly convinced: kein lemming ich
    revisit the myth of eden’s fateful choosing
    posit again the poisoned apple alluring
    a reich’s bubble everlasting enduring
    HD visions of infinitude dazzling hypnotic
    strapped to our masts enraptured and wild
    ignoring the buckling deck splintering groaning
    compelled to embrace the infinite abyss

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