Tuesday, 19 April 2011

O Fortuna, I think I am becoming a god: the hubris of Humanity

The head of the allegedly "greenest government in (British) history", David Cameron, announced yesterday his intention to repeal a raft of environmental legislation, including laws protecting wild bird's nests and eggs, as well as, crucially, the Climate Change Act. This latter law currently requires the Government to take steps to ensure that the carbon emissions of the UK are 80% below their 1990 level by 2050 - this is the minimum reduction many climate change scientists argue will be necessary across the world to prevent runaway climate change and the destruction of human civilisation.

Why has Cameron, aided and abetted by his supine Liberal Democrat Orcs, decided on this?

Well, apparently such rules are "red tape" which hinder the onward march of British industry. They crush creativity and damage our competitiveness with overseas trade rivals. Much better to set our resource-gobbling entrepreneurs free to sate their lust for profit on the altar of profligacy and excess.

Cameron and his free marketeer allies like David Laws and Nick Clegg claim of course that this is the genus of capitalism unbound - free to develop, to cater for every human demand and whim, somehow, by magic, it will find the answers to our environmental problems, invent amazing new technologies that will defy the laws of physics and breach resource limits. Hence the move towards freeing up GM food and the view of Climate Change regulations as a hindrance to the mystical Invisible Hand of the Mighty Market that will mysteriously provide for us all. In doing so, it might ravage the planet of its natural beauty, destroy its ecosystems and rape it of its resources, but that won't matter - somehow, as long as we work hard enough and don't think of some free ride on the state benefits express, Capitalism will provide.

And so we have a government informed by neo-liberal economics and the freak theories of people like the Campaign to Repeal the Climate Change Act. See a video interview with one of their leaders here (click here to link)...a man so breathtakingly arrogant in his ignorance that he defies belief outside of the realms of bad science fiction movies. This man feels that any suggestion that we might limit our use of resources or seek to limit or even just slow the exponential growth rate of humanity is a slight to his warped version of reality. By his arguments, the more the merrier - more humans will not bust the planet, but rather somehow create the ingenuity that will allow us somehow to cram more and more people onto our tired piece of space rock, forever gobbling resources, flying everywhere, driving everywhere, living like Americans everywhere...

Of course, he is in a fantasy world: one where anything that might rain on his parade is in fact a socialist plot. Peak Oil? Nonsense, he scoffs, if we begin to run out of oil, having another three billion people on the Earth will not massively increase demand for the dwindling black stuff and make its price rocket, but rather provide the creative brainpower required to invent new ways of miraculously creating and consuming more and more outputs for fewer and fewer inputs. Anyone who disagrees is just a havering hippie.

But then this denial of reality also invents any kind of excuses or explanations for our current realities - of rising energy prices, of rising global temperatures, of billions living on the edge of existence shorn of the ownership of anything of value. Doubtless, all these will be down to the failure of a state somewhere to implement full-on market capitalism. All they need is to let business and industry find a way.

This is the hubris of humanity, exemplified as never before by our strange advocate and the men he stands proxy for. Somehow, we will always find a way out, create something that will make it right, even if it is just on time and millions may suffer in the meantime. Somehow, we have reached a stage in our history where government policy and the cultural zeigeist do truly hold that creativity is spawned far more effectively by seeding it with the prospect of dollars cash rather than by the prospect of public service or even simple satisfaction.

The transient Triumph of Vespasian
In ancient Rome, Emperors were declared gods when they died. When Vespasian heard the Shades whispering to him in AD79, he wryly observed, "O Fortune, I think I am becoming a god" before passing away.

Our modern Masters may sadly no longer worship Zeus and give thanks for the planet the gods bequeathed them, but they clearly see themselves and their favoured sons and daughters as capable of godly deeds as the Earth spins towards catastrophe. To rein them in as they wipe out our rainforests, jet the world over day after day and continue with conspicuous consumption, would by their argument amount to heresy. To suggest that industry might serve people and planet rather than the other way round can be to invite the full Inquisition, castigation as a utopian dreamer or schemer. Rather, it is time to unite around the consensus that somehow Capital will find a way, no matter how pyrrhic its inevitable Triumph.

But Rome is long gone, and the halls of Olympus lie empty. And our modern would-be gods, just as they claim to hold the very key to knowledge, in truth stand empty, nothing more than false gods and hollow men.

We make our obeisances and sacrifices to them at our peril.

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