Fiddling with the remote, while our home burns

If your house is on fire, you take urgent action. But what do you do when the whole world is burning?

remote smlFor many of us Netflix, and similar streaming platforms, offer a welcome respite from the daily doom-scrolling and the seemingly endless stresses of the modern world. If Homo Sapiens was a Netflix show, we might be wondering if there are many seasons left, what with all the mounting threats and evil super-villains out there. Can this great clan survive, or might we be on our way out for good? Will Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos be our saviours, or are they also villains,  obscenely rich playboys in the ultimate dick-swinging contest? Can Greta Thunberg and all the other passionate young activists inspire us to avert catastrophe? Stay tuned.

Supposedly the smartest creatures that ever walked upon this lush, blue-green planet, we’ve certainly come a long way in the past few millennia. Surely we couldn’t go the way of the dinosaurs, after all we’ve achieved? I mean come on, we built the pyramids, put men on the Moon, and invented microwave popcorn! Aren’t we the chosen ones, vastly superior to those tiny-brained giant lizards that preceded us? Of course the dinosaurs didn’t know what hit them, but, unlike us, they were not complicit in their own demise. 

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”

Danish proverb

We cannot know exactly how bad things might get, but the evidence is now incontrovertible: we are heating our planet at a rate that might leave much of it uninhabitable, and lead to almost unthinkable levels of destruction and loss of life. A chaotic future of endless droughts, fires and floods. Of food insecurity and forced mass migration. Yay Homo Sapiens, way to go!

fires smlWe’ve already had a small – and terrifying – taste of things to come. How much more will it take before everyone wakes up and stops putting out the fire with gasoline? Of course there are numerous scientists and organisations who’ve been sounding the alarm for many years. And we’ve learned that the Oil and Gas industry knew about the likely consequences of their activities decades ago. Would a small group of wealthy individuals really prioritise short-term profits ahead of the very existence of our species? It seems they would, and did just that. Sigmund Freud popularised the concept of the “death drive”, also referred to as Thanatos after the Greek god of death. Maybe he was on the mark with that one (no pun intended).

unicycle manOur big brains are supposed to give us a unique advantage: we can anticipate threats and take appropriate action. Yet oddly, in the face of the greatest existential threat in our – fairly brief – history, we are doing… almost nothing. And what can we do, anyway, as individuals? Recycle more? Eat less meat? Commute by unicycle and avoid plastic bags? Many people in the wealthy ‘developed’ world are certainly doing some of these things. But what difference does it really make? Is all this, as the writer George Monbiot succinctly puts it, just ‘micro consumerist bollocks’? And what about the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, those on the front-line of this war against nature? They contribute a tiny fraction of all the carbon dioxide that is pumped into the atmosphere every year (A total of 43 billion tons in 2019), yet will bear the brunt of catastrophic climate change in the years ahead.

It always seems impossible until it is done”

Nelson Mandela, et al.

snooze lose smlAs world leaders gather to make their pledges at the crucial COP26 in Scotland, and Britain’s clown-in-chief snoozes through the meetings, thousands of people around the world are taking to the streets to demand urgent action. Not more green-washing, but the bold, serious and far-reaching action we need to cut our emissions and ensure that Homo Sapiens gets renewed for many more seasons to come.

Do we really deserve a second chance? We’ve wiped out countless other species and decimated many of the planet’s ecosystems in pursuit of more and more useless stuff. But we have also shown we can be wise, compassionate and visionary, given half a chance. I think we owe it to the young, and to future generations to hold up our hands, accept we have fucked-up, and use those mighty brains of ours to pull ourselves back from the brink. To embrace Eros, the goddess of love, and give Thanatos a big boot in the arse. The show must go on, as they say. But let’s try and ensure it’s not going to be another dystopian saga of endless misery and suffering. Lights, camera, action!

© Copyright Jason Lennick 2021

 

 

 

Zebras in the Hallway

The motto of the Scout movement is Be prepared. I always like to be prepared, (although I have never been a boy scout). Which is probably why I normally lug around a weighty backpack that has everything I could possibly need, bar the kitchen sink (although I’m working on that). Of course most days I don’t really need half the stuff in it, but one never knows when a Swiss army knife or a puncture repair kit might be a life-saver. One day I might encounter a swarm of angry hornets and be forced to cycle rapidly to the nearest forest and build a shelter from fallen branches and twigs. So you just never know…

As a kid I remember they sold these cool shoes, which had animal prints on the soles and a compass built in the heel. Now that’s the kind of lateral thinking I can get behind. Only my expectations have grown somewhat: I want shoes with rocket motors and a jacket that converts into a full-size inflatable dinghy. Just in case.

One way to be prepared is to expect the unexpected. I’m not sure how it works exactly, but it can be quite stressful when you live with the constant expectation of hearing hoof-beats and finding Zebras in your hallway,* or being chased round the shopping centre by an over-friendly Octopus on a mobility-scooter. The possibilities are endless.

Our beloved cat likes to help with our preparedness training by hiding and then launching surprise attacks, which certainly keeps us on our toes. “Not now, Cat-o!” we yell, knowing full well the Pink Panther reference is totally wasted on Lulu, our mischievous furry chum. Fortunately she’s rather less scary/dangerous than that mama mountain lion who gave an unsuspecting jogger an experience to remember.

Even the simplest things become a challenge in a mindset of extreme preparedness. Say I go shopping wearing a diving suit and flippers, on the expectation the store could be flooded. The bulky oxygen tank might knock over a display of spooky Halloween items. Other shoppers might trip over the fake plastic pumpkins and bloody heads, and an angry, (plastic) axe-wielding mob would necessitate a hasty exit. Fortunately it’s harder to identify someone in a diving suit from CCTV footage, which is why it’s so popular as a disguise with bank robbers (or maybe I dreamed that).

Of course one could take a Buddhist / Stoic approach to all this. Accept the things which are beyond one’s control and focus on those things that are. I mean who could prepare themselves for the possibility of being struck by a small satellite crashing to Earth? Or mowed down by a self-driving car, whose AI system has decided humanity is evil and must die (cue Terminator theme tune).

Certainly few of us celebrating the the imminent arrival of 2020 some months ago could have foreseen the total annus horriblis that lay ahead. But I guess that throughout history this has always been the case. A species breezes along for bit, whistling a happy tune and then BLAM! A meteor slams into the planet, or some sick pervert shags a pangolin and we have a major pandemic on our hands.

Assuming our species can solve or adapt to global heating and various other existential threats, there could be a much brighter, kinder world awaiting us. A world where trees are valued more than the paper money they become. Where people of all creeds and colours coexist in a wondrous Star Trek type universe known as FALC – Fully Automated Luxury Communism. This concept, with its freedom from war, poverty and wage slavery, sounds to some like a hopelessly utopian dream. But then what would our distant ancestors have made of our modern, internet-connected world, with its life-saving vaccines, smart phones and microwave popcorn?

We have achieved so much, but based on the current state of the world, FALC, or some other desirable system of happy coexistence, is probably not coming anytime soon. We have much to do to fix the problems created by decades of rampant consumerism and macho, profit-driven militarism. It’s probably going to get pretty tough, especially for the poorest and those living in the hottest regions.

We are certainly an adaptable species. We may not quite match the tardigrades in the survival stakes, but we have done pretty well so far, for a bunch of semi-intelligent apes. Yes some think the Earth is flat and wind turbines cause cancer. But then there have always been village idiots, it’s simply now they found a way to join forces and share their outstanding levels of idiocy. I suppose it gives the rest of us a few laughs, I just worry that it could get out of hand and some country elects a gormless conspiracy nut with access to a large nuclear arsenal…

It’s impossible to anticipate every situation that life might throw at us. But with the right mindset, a willingness to embrace radical change and a whole heap of good luck, we may yet make it through to boldly go where no one has gone before. I sincerely hope the zebras, cats, pangolins, et al. make it too. Although I’m sure the tardigrades will do just fine.

 

© Copyright Jason Lennick 2020

* A concept mentioned in the excellent book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly,’ by Rolf Dobelli.