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The end of the human race

January 3, 2020

You know how sometimes words just leap off the page and smack you in the face? That happened to me the other day when I got around to reading the opinion section of last Saturday’s Globe and Mail. There was a piece in it by Corey Doctorow, who hypothesises about how an optimistic science fiction writer might draft a response to the climate change crisis.

This was the bit that smacked me:

“The looming climate emergency is proving the axiom that ‘it’s easier to imagine the end of the human race than it is to imagine the end of capitalism’.”

Bloody hell, I thought when I read that sentence, he’s really hit the nail on the head. If it’s an axiom (and he’s written it in quotes), this is obviously not the first time someone has said it, but it’s the first time I’ve ever come across such a succinct explanation of the problem.

Capitalism has been a problem for a very long time. Now, like climate change, it is a crisis.

Of course capitalism is the problem.


Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

Or, as Greta Thunberg also succinctly put it at the UN this year, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” Good for her for finishing this observations with: “How dare you!”

In his article, Doctorow blames Margaret Thatcher. Not directly for climate change (ironically her hard hearted decision to kill the coal industry in the 1980s left the UK with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than many of its European neighbours), but for carving into stone – as if it was the only commandment – the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism. Apparently (I did not know this), she said this so often that “wags called her ‘TINA’ Thatcher”.

So, what is Doctorow’s optimistic sci-fi plot for tackling the crisis?

“As the vast majority of Canadians come to realize the scale of the crisis, they are finally successful in their demand that their government address it unilaterally, without waiting for other countries to agree.”

The country then goes on a “war” footing – full employment guaranteed by the number of jobs required for the energy transition, completed within ten years.

“The ‘Canadian miracle’ becomes a global inspiration, proof that it can be done. Canadian ‘Blue Helmets’ go abroad to share their experiences, and experts from other countries flock to Canada to observe how we did it – and to tell us what we missed. Canada becomes a net exporter of radically transformative ideas: ideas about work, leisure, fairness, public health and, of course, energy.”

Do I think this actually could happen, that it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibilities? Yes, it could happen. I could win the lottery. Frankly, the odds of my lottery win are probably better.

It’s certainly not going to happen in Canada under the leadership of a prime minister who talks the talk on climate change then buys a pipeline. It’s certainly not going to happen in any other country, given the current basket of deplorable world leaders – with the notable exception of Jacinda Ardern, who might have the balls all the male leaders lack. (Go, Kiwis!)

Reading this article did not make me feel optimistic about humanity’s future. It left me feeling sad, frustrated and mad as hell. Human beings are their own – and obviously the planet’s – worst enemy.

Tragically, it is easier for me to imagine the end of the human race than it is to imagine overthrowing capitalism in time to save my species and all the others we are taking with us.

Thank goodness I never had children.

From → Columns

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