The End of the End of the Earth

The End of the End of the Earth

Following on the reading theme of climate crisis, The End of the End of the Earth, as ominous as the title sounds, was a simpler collection of essays. The author’s honest introspection made me think a little harder about climate-related actions and motivations. It’s a more emotive read than the Tropic of Chaos and it descends into a depressive mood at times because of his wistful writing about love in a dying world – love for a person, for birds, for the bleak future. It made me reflective of my earlier pessimistic thoughts about the future and kids in a fading world but this quote lifted my spirits –“Yet to imagine a world without young people is to imagine living on a Lindblad ship forever…Even in a world of dying, new love continues to be born.”

I loved reading about his birding adventures – when he wrote about the birds he saw in East Africa, I mentally checked off all the birds he referenced and it made me smile and think about the birds we saw during our East Africa trip.

Other Quotes/excerpts that I enjoyed,

  • I share, with the very people my essay criticized, the recognition that global warming is the issue of our time, perhaps the biggest issue in all human history. Every one of us is now in the position of the indigenous Americans when the Europeans arrived with guns and smallpox: our world is poised to changed vastly, unpredictably and mostly for the worse. I don’t have any hope that we can stop the change from coming. My only hope is that we can accept the reality in time to prepare for it humanely, and my only faith is that facing it honestly, however painful this may be, is better than denying it.
  • For the leftist, as neoliberalism and its technologies reduced the electorate to individual consumers, saw climate change as the last strong argument for collectivism.
  • I would have especially tried to remember all the people who need more hope in their lives than a depressive pessimist does, the people for whom the prospect of a hot, calamity-filled future is unbearably sad and frightening, and who can be forgiven for not wanting to think about it. I would have kept revising.
  • If you allow that renewable-energy projects are only a moderating tactic, unable to reverse the damage that past carbon emissions will continue to do for centuries, it opens the door to questions about the business. Like, did we really need quite so many windmills? Did they have to be placed in ecologically sensitive areas? And the solar farms in the Mojave Desert – wouldn’t it make more sense to cover the city of Los Angeles with solar panels and spare the open space? Weren’t we sort of destroying the natural world in order to save it?
  • The most striking thing about the Amazon Conservation’s work is the smallness of its constituent parts. At every turn, the smallness contrast with the vastness of climate-change projects – the mammoth wind turbines, the horizon reaching solar farms, the globe encircling clouds of reflective particles that geoengineers envision. The difference in scale creates a difference in the kid if meaning that actions have for the people performing them. The meaning of climate-related actions, because they produce no discernible result, is necessarily eschatological; they refer to a Judgement day we’re hoping to postpone. The mode of meaning of the conservation in the Amazon is Franciscan: you’re helping something you love, something right in front of you and you can see the results.
  • Consider the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacrum – the idea that consumer capitalism has replaced reality with representations of reality. The parks function as simulacra in which tourists, most of them white, all of them affluent, can “experience” and “Africa” whose representation is contingent on their money…you may find yourself viewing zebras in the Serengeti and recalling the zebras in a safari park in Florida. Not only is the real thing not real, it strikes you as a copy of a copy. The image of a lion bringing down a gazelle is a cliché to anyone who grew up watching national Geographic documentaries. Worse yet, the fact that it’s a cliché is also cliché. What added value, exactly, does the tourist receive from distantly glimpsing dramatic scenes of life and death that he or she can see extremely well at home? Does the world really need more amateur photographs of giraffes?
  • For the mammal lover, a young elephant in a well-designed zoo is no less adorable than a young elephant in an African nature park; the only value added by the latter is that the elephant is plucking its own grass, that it behaves as if it’s at risk of attack by lions and that the boundaries of the park are too far away to see. Caging a bird in a aviary, however, negates its very essence; an eagle is nothing if you can’t see it soar. To experience African birds, you have to go to Africa.
  • It’s true that the most effective single action that most human beings can take, not only to combat climate change but to preserve a world of biodiversity, is not to have children. It may also be true that nothing can stop the logic of human priority: If people want meat and there are krill for the taking, krill will be taken. It may be even true that penguins, in their resemblance to children, offer the most promising bridge to a better way of thinking about species endangered by the human logic: they, too, are our children. They, too, deserve our care.
  • Yet to imagine a world without young people is to imagine living on a Lindblad ship forever…Even in a world of dying, new love continues to be born.

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