The nightmare is becoming ever more horrifying. This month alone, the evidence of the insane environmental catastrophe mankind is inflicting upon our one and only planet has been coming thick and fast: in an authoritative 1,800-page report for the United Nations, the world’s leading scientists warn that the annihilation of biodiversity and ecosystems is producing such a comprehensive mass-extinction event of plants, insects and other animals that it now amounts to a clear and present danger to the continued existence of humanity itself; the latest climate models predict a minimum global temperature rise of between 3°C and 4°C by 2100, a rise that would turn most of the world into uninhabitable deserts surrounded by vast, dead oceans; new analysis of satellite data shows that the Antarctic ice-sheet in a mere twenty years has lost 100m of ice thickness in places and is losing ice at an ever-accelerating rate far beyond the most pessimistic predictions, a process that is raising sea-levels so quickly that nearly all the world’s major cities will be drowned by the end of the century; the World Health Organisation has declared air pollution a public health emergency which compels 90% of the global population to endure toxic outdoor air, causes 9 million early deaths a year and damages virtually every organ and every cell in the human body; and a comprehensive survey of debris on the remote Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean found a staggering 414 million pieces of plastic on the beaches of the undeveloped and virtually uninhabited islands, while an American ‘aquanaut’ broke the record for the deepest ever dive to the bottom of the 7-mile deep Mariana Trench, only to see the heartbreaking sight of plastic litter through his submersible’s window.
It is all happening so quickly, a runaway snowball effect hurtling towards the irreversible point of no return. Yet despite decades of ever more categorical dire warnings absolutely nothing has been done to slow the process let alone reverse it. For instance, global plastic production increases exponentially each year when what is required is the opposite: the complete banning of all plastics and the outlawing of the entire plastics industry. That is just one among many blindingly obvious and sensible measures that would be taken if we intended to save the planet and therefore save the human race. In other words, a capitalism predicated on infinite consumption and endless growth must cease forthwith.
In an imaginary world populated by serious, intelligent, good-hearted people with an imaginary world government of serious, intelligent, good-hearted leaders, all united in their determination to solve this immense, unprecedented existential crisis, the very foundations of the economic system would be dismantled. There would be no place for the profit motive, for debt, for competition, for private wealth, for landlordism, for income divisions, for commerce, for advertising, for marketing, for fashion, for consumerism, for obsolescence, for waste and for the entire ethos and concept of ‘business’. All effort, enterprise, inventiveness, ingenuity and energy would be expended on the only issue that matters: saving the planet. Everyone capable of work would be guaranteed a job doing the only task that matters: cleaning up the mess, rectifying the damage and healing our once beautiful world. And anyone who so much as chopped down a tree or built upon a patch of earth would be treated as what they are: murderers of the possibility of a future.
A small step in the direction of that imaginary world could be made right now by making climate-change denial a criminal offence, in the same way that holocaust denial is rightly illegal in most countries. Funded by the fossil fuel industries, ‘free enterprise’ think tanks and the super-rich, and obligingly given a platform by powerful media organisations like the fatally compromised BBC, the deniers have been at it for years, systematically and calculatedly spreading doubt, misleading the public, undermining science, blocking policy initiatives and whipping up hostile opposition to any meaningful action. They must be prosecuted and silenced. Notice how the denial of the man-made climate change that has already killed 50 million people is always done by rightwingers, from Trump and the Republicans in the US to the likes of Lawson, UKIP and the Tory press in the UK. You would think, would you not, that the basic precautionary principle of protecting our world isn’t really a political, right/left issue, given that even the most rapacious capitalist would find it hard to sell stuff without a planet to do it on and even the most reactionary brute bigot must surely appreciate the odd pretty view. But the fact that concern for ‘green’ issues is anathema to anyone with a rightwing mind-set reveals what this is all really about: you can have capitalism or you can have a biosphere; you can’t have both. They know it, and that is why the odious coalition of billionaires and their compliant lumpen admasses would prefer no world at all rather than concede one luxury yacht, one widescreen TV or one inch to the tacit admission that they are wicked idiots who have lived a lie.
Notice also how the deniers have kept shifting their objections as the evidence has become overwhelming and undeniable. They have arrived at what has been termed ‘Stage 5 Climate Denial’. In Stage 1 it was a hoax cooked up by Commies. In Stage 2 it was just natural cycles and nothing to do with human activity. In Stage 3 it was too unpredictable and uncertain and anyhow a warmer world would be better. In Stage 4 it was too long-term and far in the future to be pressing or else too expensive and difficult to fix. And, lo and behold, in Stage 5 the deniers now declare that it’s all too late so there’s no point bothering!
There is another equally dangerous group of advocates for inaction: evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. They don’t stray out of their depth by denying man-made climate change, instead they positively welcome it as a way to usher in their cravings for Armageddon and satisfy their bloodthirsty lust to inflict punishment for ‘original sin’. Since it was the monotheistic religions that first disseminated the ludicrous and profoundly damaging ideas about man having ‘dominion’ over the planet and being God-given, special, separate from nature and superior to other animals, these 21st century representatives of Stone Age superstition bear particular responsibility for bringing about the environmental catastrophe. However, in one way the Bible-bashers might have a point – because if the human race fails to rise up in anger and outrage to stop the insane destruction of our world then we surely are fundamentally flawed and deserve any hell that awaits.
We are the problem, so we are the solution. In this most profoundly grave of all possible scenarios, hope is actually counterproductive when it only engenders something-will-turn-up complacency or it-can’t-happen-here apathy or delusional happy-ever-after infantilism. Hopelessness is paradoxically now the best hope, because only the nothing-to-lose desperation of hopelessness can provoke the revolution needed, while only the bitter melancholy of hopelessness can convey the proper, congruent mood to fit the enormity of the unfolding tragedy. In the brave, inspiring recent protest actions of striking schoolkids and the growing Extinction Rebellion movement there are faint signs of the stirrings of resistance in anything approaching the sheer numbers that must be mobilised to pull us back from the brink. The obstacles are formidable, the foe is ferocious and powerful, the likelihood of success is diminishing all the time. But what else is there worth doing? There can be no more important struggle for anyone with a brain and a conscience than to fight for this good Earth in these days, these terrible days, these last of days.