Monday 4 March 2013

Time to cancel the apocalypse

We all of us live with some kind of apocalypse hanging over us.  These days it is global warming.  In my youth, we used to sit over school lunch, discussing what we should do if the four-minute warning sounded that heralded nuclear annihilation.  Before that, it was the threat of apocalypse by aerial bombardment.

The idea that we might dwell a little less on the imminent end of the world is not to suggest that these are not real threats – or that we need do nothing about them.  We avoided nuclear apocalypse by the skin of our teeth during the Cold War, and not because everyone sat back and trusted those in charge.

But the green movement clings to the idea of apocalypse, and does so increasingly, and it is deeply disempowering – it may also explain the strange lack of communication between those of us who count themselves as part of the green movement (like me) and those who don’t.

So when one of our foremost green campaigners comes along with a book called Cancel the Apocalypse, and when it has a big thumbs up sign on  the front cover and sparkles with the kind of optimism you usually get from washing powder – then you know something important is happening.

Andrew Simms is a close friend (I must declare an interest here) and when he launched his book last week, crammed into St Mary’s Church in Kennington (proprietor: Rev G. Fraser), I was there, eating vegan shepherd’s pie.

His thesis is that humanity tends to avoid our looming apocalypses through innovation and imagination, and his book is therefore a prediction of the age to come.

This is a vital shift in the argument for green campaigners.  Prophesying the end of the world is difficult to sustain, because those it manages to convince it also disempowers.  But to argue that the world inevitably adapts to avoid disaster is something else entirely.

It puts the spotlight on the dinosaurs around us – who sometimes seem to be absolutely everywhere – who say that the status quo will continue, except more so.

It is difficult enough to believe that the economy will be organised in exactly the same way that caused the difficulties in the first place, but more so.  Or that the energy shortfall will be solved by the policies of the 1970s.  But what is really impossible to swallow is the idea that nothing will change.

That is the argument of failed elites in all ages, and they are always wrong.

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