Mac’s back, and he’s been thinking bleak thoughts about a post-climate-change planet. How much of a part does our certainty of apocalypse play in ensuring it comes to pass – and can an agnostic approach to our ultimate fate help us prevent it happening?
About a month ago I came to a seemingly nonnegotiable realization that human civilization would fail to survive the climatic excesses of the next hundred years. The certainty of my premonition – incubated during long hours of Web surfing and immersion in dire statistics – had a concussive effect in my psyche, shattering unspoken hopes and uprooting unexamined preconceptions of what “the future” really was. I was left shaken and reeling, the routines that defined my life rendered abruptly insignificant, withered by a blast of greenhouse heat.
My evident epiphany wasn’t the fleeting bit of delirium I hoped it might be. Manifesting as a sickly, nebulous fear, it proved strangely adhesive, lining the inside of my skull and marring all I touched with images of impending cataclysm: jaundiced, crumbling landscapes left in the wake of climate refugees; the silent, sun-soaked purgatory of drowned coastal cities; remnants of humanity sparring over resources with the weapons bequeathed to them by the pathological arrogance of the preceding century. It took real effort to detach from the horror, to suggest to myself – however timidly – that my certainty was unfounded and perhaps colored by my own arrogance. Ironically, the realization that the parched and wasted world dominating my thoughts could be an unexamined aspect of my own mind was almost as disturbing as if it were physically inevitable.
Of course, my apocalyptic fears aren’t entirely unfounded. Climate studies indicate that the Earth could heat up by as much as four degrees Celsius within fifty to one-hundred years. If so, there seems little reason to expect the world of 2100 to resemble the familiar world of 2009, with its casual reliance on food-producing crops, transportation and communications infrastructure. With its decimated biosphere and reduced human presence, the milieu of a post-greenhouse world (described with frightening audacity by James Lovelock, ecologist and author of The Revenge of Gaia) reveals the essential fragility of our age.
For all of the wonders promised us by proponents of an imminent technological Singularity, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which science and reason conspire to triumph over the stubbornly apocalyptic resolve of entropy itself. Nevertheless, there’s at least some reason to hope that a combination of engineering savvy and increased awareness will spawn new approaches for dealing with what otherwise might prove an indomitable menace. I’m of the opinion that nothing less than an effort to actively decarbonize our atmosphere will suffice – which, of course, presents a host of economic and geopolitical complications arguably just as depressing as the core challenge of keeping Earth’s climate within a range conducive to human habitability.
Since the onset of my fixation I’ve attempted to harbor a therapeutic skepticism. Because as damning as the evidence might seem, the very plasticity that can bring humanity to the brink of extinction can be harnessed to minimize the worst of our prognostications.
My mind remains awash in Cassandra-like visions of a planet gone irredeemably awry, our most stirring ambitions cooked dry under an unfriendly sun. We’ve stumbled into an age of terminal uncertainty; perhaps only the most persistent breed of agnosticism can shield us from the glare of false confidence.
Mac Tonnies is an author/essayist whose futuristic fiction and speculative essays have appeared in many print and online publications. He’s the author of Illumined Black, a collection of science fiction short-stories, and After the Martian Apocalypse (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004). Mac maintains Posthuman Blues, a widely read blog devoted to emerging technologies and paranormal phenomena, and is a member of the Society for Planetary SETI Research. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he writes, reads and surfs the Net. He is currently at work on a new book.
[Loving the Alien column header image credited to RedMonkeyVirus]