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Look thy last on all things lovely

Planet Waves
Ewan MacColl, 1988 by Jim Maginn.
On one side of the planet, oilmen kill the Gulf; on the other, a rogue government kills passengers and hijacks ships at sea. Planes foul the atmosphere; genetically modified crops and trees invade food supplies; radionuclides leach from nuclear plants; tropical pests and diseases spread northward; pesticides and industrial poisons taint the cells of every living thing; icecaps and glaciers melt into rising seas; wells and rivers dry up; honeybees drift into extinction alongside newts and snakes.

"The evil that men do lives after them," quoth the Bard. The evil that our species does will keep killing long after we follow the honeybees into oblivion.

"We're fucked, so why bother?" one person says. "SUVs fill the roads like a dead pelican parade. We're choking the planet to death, our oil is running dry, and we kill each other to get the last of it before someone else does."

"Yup, we're fucked," agrees an octogenarian, cheerfully fighting cancer inside and corrupt government outside, with about equal likelihood of success. "We're fucked, but we don't have to bend over and take it. Be angry. Be very, very angry. Then act on it. By damn I'll go out fighting."

These two different reactions to the mounting wreckage of civilization can occur side by side in anyone who cares beyond the ostrich phases of denial. "Despair. Accept. Act," Clive Hamilton says. He explores such reactions to unpleasant facts about ourselves and our future in Requiem for a Species: why we resist the truth about climate change.

"Over the last five years, almost every advance in climate science has painted a more disturbing picture of the future," Hamilton writes. "The reluctant conclusion of the most eminent climate scientists is that the world is now on a path to a very unpleasant future and it is too late to stop it." This is the reality his book confronts head on, with unsparing bluntness.

Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Australian National University and author of Affluenza, Growth Fetish, The Freedom Paradox, and other provocative books, has written more than a requiem. His new book is a painfully embarrassing tour of human folly in the face of entirely preventable disasters -- right up to the most preventable and now unstoppable disaster of all, planetary climate change past its tipping point.

Planet Waves
Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (Hardcover).
Like greedy infants, again and again we have gleefully snatched the gifts of technology -- electricity, travel, instant communications, nonstop entertainment, all-powerful weapons, lethal medicines, instant foodstuffs -- without a thought for the harm their production, use and disposal cause to others or to our own backyard. Again and again we have accepted without question the false religion of growth: the delusions of perpetual economic growth, perpetual population growth, perpetual waste growth on a visibly finite planet.

Now the harm has overcome the planet's capacity to recover. That is reality. The big questions looming are: will we refuse to accept that reality as we refused to accept all the warning signs leading to it? Will we keep allowing profiteers to control our perceptions of reality as well as our reactions? That way lies extinction, Hamilton argues.

Rather than attempting to change reality through ever more destructive, uncertain technological fixes, Hamilton sees our only salvation in changing ourselves, our behavior, and our relationship to the world. Such salvation -- a chance of diminished survival in an increasingly hostile, unpredictable climate -- will depend totally on enough people becoming knowledgeable and caring enough to take collective, radical action against corporate profiteers and their enabling governments.

"If it is too late to prevent climate disruption there is still much we can influence," Hamilton writes. "Any success in reducing emissions is better than doing nothing, because warming and its effects can at least be slowed down. Resisting those who want to capitulate is a fight worth having."

Hamilton pulls no punches here. The fight worth having is nothing less than global uprising in which real, live people finally assert their power to create a government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Corporations and spin doctors need not apply. What he urges, in the most civil language possible, is worldwide civil disobedience: "The time has come for us to ask whether our obligations to our fellow humans and the wider natural world entitle us to break laws that protect those who continue to pollute the atmosphere in a way that threatens our survival." First we might want to boycott BP stations.

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