I have an article over at Spiked, on the matter of that dodgy ‘NASA-funded’ end-is-nigh report.
The article, by the catastrophile and author of The Crisis of Civilisation, Nafeez Ahmed, was soon picked up by dozens of other newspapers, and hundreds of websites, all over the world. ‘NASA-funded study warns of “collapse of civilisation” in coming decades’, screamed the Independent. ‘Industrial civilisation “may be heading toward collapse” within decades because of its strain on the planet’s resources, NASA report finds’, yelled the Daily Mail.
It was written last week. Since then, Keith Kloor has given at least Ahmed’s version of the study a well-deserved spanking for his low journalistic standards.
Ahmed wrote an uncritical appraisal of the study. He didn’t bother to inquire about the merits of the model or its results.
Ahmed, is, though, a catstrophile, excited by the possibility of Judgement Day, and accordingly preoccupied. He responds to Kloor back at the gloomy-doomy Guardian:
Journalistic standards won’t be upheld by attempting to discredit science we don’t like
There is obviously no room, in Ahmed’s version of ‘journalist standards’, between salivating over scientific doomsayers, and rejecting all science.
Weirdly, part of Ahmed’s defence is this claim
Which links to yet another article of Ahmed’s, the optimism in which appears to be this,
As energy is the underpinning of a society, the unravelling of the fossil fuel system signifies the demise of the old paradigm. By the end of this century, one way or another, this paradigm will be obsolete. It’s up to us what will take its place – and as the death-spiral of the old paradigm accelerates, so do the opportunities to explore viable alternatives.
The new emerging paradigm is premised on a fundamentally different ethos, in which we see ourselves not as disconnected, competing units fixated on maximising consumerist conquest over one another; but as interdependent members of a single human family. Our economies, rather than being assumed to exist in a vacuum of unlimited material expansion, are seen as embedded in wider society, such that economic activity for its own sake is recognised as the pathology that it is. Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human – values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things. And in turn, our societies are seen not as autonomous entities to which the whole of the planet must be ruthlessly subjugated, but rather as inherently embedded in the natural environment.
The unravelling of the fossil fuel system is, of course, witnessed only by Ahmed. The rest of the world is consuming more of it than ever before, and so it is a good thing that more of it seems to have been found.
And in any case, it’s a weird kind of optimism, that is predicated on a chaotic transition from one ‘paradigm’ to another, like some kind of traumatic re-birth. Ahmed imagines the benefits of a post-economic society in an era clearly characterised by scarcity, rather than abundance. The environmentalist fantasises that we will re-discover our lost humanity through poverty — that we will have nice, fluffy politics, in spite of only a basic level of life.
In this model, households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy – and the same could apply to food.
We should reject this model.
I do not want to grow my own food, nor produce my own energy. 1. I wouldn’t be very good at it. 2. I don’t have enough time. 3. I have better things to do.
And I do not want to live in a ‘community’ which is bought together by necessity. If it floats your boat, more power to your elbows (and your comrades’ elbows). But there’s more to life than eating and sh*tting, and correspondingly, more to life than growing food and clearing up sh*t.
I would rather choose where I live, choose what I do, and choose what to have for dinner.
I don’t believe, as Ahmed seems to, that the Good Life exists in the post-fossil world he imagines. People do not discover humanity in subsistence. Yes, it is a Good Thing when humans cooperate to achieve each others’ or their shared aims. But Ahmed can only picture such ‘interdependence’ in the aftermath of a catastrophe.
This form of ethics is as crass as the motivations depicted by second rate Hollywood disaster B-movies. In such movies, some asteroid, alien-invasion, zombies or the incautious meddling of scientists, wipe the slate clean, removing the problem of determining consent for authority through political means — democracy. Only the virtuous survive the disaster, leaving intact those who were brought together by, yes, necessity. The agent of catastrophe is just a metaphor for misanthropy, or at least, the author’s inarticulate expression of rage at other people’s disobedience.
The ethics of doom are infantile. The likes of Ahmed don’t seem to be able to make a distinction between the failure to assert their will over the world and the end of the world. And they are narcissistic — consumed by themselves.
Speaking of crap films. Here is a film version of Ahmed’s thesis, in which he looks for an encompassing theory to explain ALL of the world’s problems.