Here are the opening paragraphs of a piece just sent out for review. Students and colleagues who read this – feel free to tell me, “you’re nuts, man!” (I truly hope you will convince me that I’m off base.)
Barring a miracle, the human species will soon face an existential challenge never before known in the history of its relatively short life on planet Earth. Qualified optimism of just a few years ago regarding humankind’s capacity to avoid the worst effects of global warming has steadily evaporated before mounting evidence that climate change is advancing far more rapidly that initially predicted. Much of Naomi Klein’s 2014 blockbuster book, This Changes Everything, was concerned with presenting the accumulated scientific case for alarm. Since then it appears that each new study – whether of glacial melting, average temperature increase, sea level rise, desertification, disease vector shifts, methane release, ocean acidification, crop failure, extreme weather events, large scale die-off in the biosphere already well underway, and on and on – seems worse than the last, each new projection sounding more alarming than the one prior.
Yet despite the urgency of the situation, and the near unanimity of opinion that “something dramatic, must be done,” global political systems – either directly or indirectly shackled to unsustainable energy-intensive economic operations, and disinclined to cooperate with one another – have proven incapable of taking the kind of radical and enforceable action necessary to curtail carbon emissions and thereby plot a credible path forward. The United States, of course, always a foot dragger in multinational discussions of the climate change action, has, with the election of Trump and the naming of climate-change denier Secretary Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, taken a very nearly incredible (in the literal sense) giant leap backward.
As such, a dispassionate calculation of probabilities suggests, soberly, if not outright grimly, that a painfully wrenching breakdown of the current extraction- and expansion-oriented order is much more likely than any rational and relatively smooth transition to a sustainable future. Extinction of the human species itself – joining countless others either already dead, dying, or in growing jeopardy – no longer seems a far-fetched possibility. Indeed, no less a luminary of the left than Noam Chomsky has noted repeatedly in recent talks that the two greatest threats to humanity’s survival – both of them very real and growing – are nuclear war and ecological degradation, the greatest difference between them lying only in the speed with which we would die. It is difficult to disagree in any substantive manner with the inelegantly put conclusion of the otherwise elegant writer, Roy Scranton, “We’re fucked. The only questions are how soon and how badly.”