"If we do not exert the right of eating our neighbour, it is because we have other means of making good cheer"- Voltaire, Candide, Chapter 16
NASA, no left-wing conspiracy, has published charts this week showing how the summer ice melt in the Arctic has reached unprecedented levels: most observers are now expecting an ice-free Arctic in summertime by 2020 if not earlier. This is already affecting the weather in northern Europe, with increasing rainfall and gales as colder oceans whip up storms unknown in the region in human times. Yet again, the Gulf Stream "conveyor" which has traditionally kept Britain milder than similar areas at our geographic latitude, may be slowing as cooler northern waters, chilled by melting ice, drive the warmer waters and air from the south-west away.
|Arctic summer ice 1984|
|Arctic ice cover last week|
Yet, even at the highest levels of political life, climate change denial remains widespread: Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has mocked President Obama's commitments to tackle global warming thus: "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family." His words deny the reality that should strike the heart of any loving parent stone cold - that, if not in their own lifetimes then certainly in the lifetimes of their children global warming, if unchecked, threatens to overwhelm our biosystems: their offspring may trade inaction now for a long, lingering farewell to any sort of civilised way of life.
Yet Obama, for all his emissions of promises and commitments to curb carbon emissions has presided over a massive expansion in fracking for dirty coal and gas to the extent that the US is now energy independent for the first time and private investment in research and development of renewable sources of energy is plunging (more evidence of how the market system can not deliver truly green solutions). Carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unabated across the world.
And, behind all this, misinforming, misleading and ripping off the bewildered public, mass media continues to proselytise for us all carrying on as if nothing is wrong, as if the party never needs to stop - those who warn the house is on fire are decried as hair-shirted killjoys. As the ice cap melts across the Arctic, rather than sounding a global emergency, politicians from Putin to Palin and corporations from Moscow to Dallas are rubbing their oily palms with glee at the prospect of new fields of carbon energy opening up to them.
In his satire, "Candide", 18th century French philosopher Voltaire has the main character reject the eternal optimism of his teacher's belief that the "all is for the best in the best of all worlds" somehow follows naturally - instead, we need to take responsibility and act ourselves: "we must cultivate our garden".
Yet, as multinationals tear down our forests and rip open ever new fissures to drill and frack for dirty energy, our garden is distinctly wilting and barren in many places. But still it is the words not of Candide, but his Professor Pangloss, that echo in endless, selfishly complacent denial of reality: "Troubles are just the shadows in a beautiful picture."
Better perhaps to heed Candide's own thoughts on the Professor's boundless optimism in the face of the truth: "It is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell...I confess that when I consider this globe, or rather this globule, I think that God has abandoned it to some evil creature"