Life began on Earth about 3.4 billion years ago.
That’s older than we can really take in. We can describe this length of time, we can write it out & tote it up, but we can’t really comprehend it.
This is one of the signs of the mismatch between individual human consciousness and the vast and simply unimaginable scales of the cosmos we are thrown into at birth.
We’re a form of late animal life evolved to be able to live within, understand, and react to local and immediate physical circumstances. This we are very good at and a certain amount of change and challenge, even catastrophic challenge on a local scale, is good for us and keeps us developing as a species.
If the challenge is at an impalpable distance from us however and or does not require an immediate survival response, if it is something we only hear about through media, through abstract representations, we are naturally inclined to tend towards ignoring it even if it threatens our individual and species survival and we are fully aware that it does.
For example nobody conscious on planet Earth since 1945 can claim not to be conscious of nuclear weapons and the clear and immediate threat they pose to our existence. Yet on a global scale only statistically irrelevant numbers of people have ever practically challenged nuclear power. The famous CND Aldermaston march of 1958, which was seminal in the development of the New Left, was attended by 100000 people at most – really almost nothing on a global scale. And of course it did not impact the development of planet-destroying nuclear weapons, still ongoing now, with the latest versions being Hypersonic Intercontinental Ballistic missiles, any one of which could kill a thousand times the 100000 of CND.
The cock-and-bull theories of ‘alienation’ & ‘false consciousness’ developed by the socialist movement a century or more ago & left mouldering ever since do not explain this fatal weakness in our ability to react to abstract survival threats in good time or at the necessary scale.
Our biological, material status as only mammals equipped with only mammal survival equipment may perhaps go some way towards explaining why we are collectively hurtling towards our doom while being collectively fully aware of it.
Consider the far-more-naturally-human life of our ancestors, whose long struggle to live & thrive through famine, fire, flood and every other survivable catastrophe shaped our animal nature. Most of the time they only dealt with immediate circumstances within a mental framework of things already experienced by them and their tribe or band through the generations. If there was a war or any kind of disaster on the other side of the world or even the other side of the valley they didn’t know about it, and so did not do anything about it.
So we simply did not evolve the capacity to adapt with the haste and understanding required for global scale, species-threatening disasters such as what we now face.
Obviously that’s a problem, but it can also be a kind of consolation, a kind of relief. You see as we all know there are two kinds of problem. Ones we can do something about & ones we can’t. And the end result of the journey of life on Earth, human consciousness and its natural inclination towards inaction unless faced with an immediate, palpable threat, is one of those things you can bang your head against for a thousand eternities without impacting it in the slightest. When there’s no solution to a predicament, there is no blame for it either, there is no guilt. There is no compulsion to engage in the absurd practice of doing something about a situation about which nothing can actually be done.
After 3.4 billion years life is truly, unimaginably eldritch on this planet. Humans are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as earthy life’s prime exhibit, its ‘paragon of animals’, its zenith. Given our actual impact on planetary life however, it seems much more accurate to view us as the biosphere’s chief symptom of degenerative senility.
Gaia has Alzheimer’s and we are it.
The one practical way we could have of overcoming as an industrial, urbanised, self-domesticated species the existential threat posed by climate change is by way of something like international ‘war communism’. That is an emergency-powered, martial-law-wielding, centralised authority which has enough mass political support and/or available repressive force to compel the entire global population to fight climate catastrophe according to the one globally co-ordinated plan and for a period of centuries. Good luck with that.
A more realistic and I think quite clearly ethically preferable mode of human survival in the near, fast-approaching future, is by way of small bands who are not co-ordinated or in anyway connected with any kind of central, repressive authority, but eke out a largely separate life-cycle within whatever utterly transformed natural environment eventually results from the 3 degrees C or more upward adjustment in global temperatures coming to us and already well under way.
That is quite a conclusion I know, and I wouldn’t blame you in the slightest if you completely rejected it – after all I’m only human too and rejecting the notion that things must come to an end for us as a species as they do for all species, or at least come to an end for the way we live now, is indeed a very human thing to do.
Contact Dave Lordan at firstname.lastname@example.org