Ancient Greeks worshipped the Earth. In the fourth century BCE, Plato’s cosmological dialogue, Timaeus, left us a picture of a mathematical, rational, and beautiful cosmos, including a spherical Earth, “the maker of day and night and the first and oldest of the gods.”
However, eight hundred years after Plato, the world changed dramatically. With the support of Roman emperors, Christianity triumphed over the many gods of the Greeks. It denounced Plato and nearly destroyed Greek civilization.
After nearly a millennium of darkness, Europeans put a break on Christianity, which gave birth to the Renaissance. This meant scholars rediscovered Plato’s vision of the heavens and Greek learning.
The Renaissance brought our modern world. Unfortunately, modernity sidelined Greek wisdom for narrow technical achievements like burning fossil fuels (petroleum, coal and natural gas) for energy. In fact, in the twentieth century, “civilized” Europeans and Americans fought WWII with unimagined savagery that culminated in the development and use of nuclear weapons.
The savage thinking that legitimized nukes also legitimizes the burning of fossil fuels. In both cases, human hubris triumphed.
Scientists are important actors in this global drama.
Bur unlike the scientists who birthed the genocidal nuclear bomb, most of the scientists who discovered that human activities are raising the temperature of the planet are warning us of the dire consequences of business as usual.
“Climate change is… happening now… wildfires in California [are burning] right now, certainly the hurricane season, epic, tragic, catastrophic in so many ways…. Not only is there a lot of science linking the severity of these storms to climate change. They are… fueled by warm water… [and] increased precipitation that comes along with these storms,” said Miles O’ Brien, science correspondent of PBS Newshour.
O’ Brien is right that, in 2017, science was overshadowed by those profiting from fossil fuels. They care less that warmer and acidic ocean waters are bleaching the corals of Great Barrier Reef in Australia or that the Larsen Ice Sea Shelf dropped off Antarctica into the sea. This iceberg is almost the size of Rhode Island.
In this global theater of the absurd and the insane, there appeared, in 2017, president Donald Trump in vehement support of the polluters and Earth destroyers, claiming climate change is a hoax. His “tax reform” enriched the oligarchy and opened the National Wildlife Arctic Refuge to petroleum drilling. The effects of his environmental policies, like those of president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, are detrimental to this and future generations.
The federal government is now hiding the risks of global warming. Indeed, it is resurrecting the “1984” terror world of George Orwell. The Trump administration “sees burning more fossil fuels as the path to global energy dominance.” This kind of thinking and policy defies reason and national security. It delays actions against fossil fuels. It fails promoting life-saving conversion to solar power and other technologies that might minimize the violence of global warming.
How are Americans reacting to this macabre reality? Unfortunately, not as they should. After all, they elected Trump. Fact has been drowned by the fiction of the Trump administration, the industry and its media. But not everything is lost.
In 2015, some 200 nations met in Paris and agreed to restrain their economies from putting too much carbon in the atmosphere. In April 22, 2017, Earth Day, thousands of scientists marched against Trump’s suicidal policies. These protesting scientists know the reality of climate change. Behind the industrialists’ billions of fossil fuel profits, there are potential rivers of blood. Such assessment creates a new consciousness, what Robert Jay Lifton calls a swerve for alternatives to fossil fuels.
Lifton, a 90-year-old psychiatrist and a 60-year veteran critic of nukes, imagines the swerve like a life-changing decision, a change of heart that pictures “our evolving awareness of our predicament.”
Lifton wisely put his considerable experience and wisdom in his latest timely and important book: “The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival” (The New Press, 2017).
Following the development and use of nuclear weapons for several decades has given Lifton an extraordinary opportunity to study and learn how scientists created “murderous nuclear devices and the world-ending threat they pose.” In contrast to the long-lasting dangers of climate change, the effects of nukes are immediate and catastrophic. Some of the atomic scientists celebrated their creation and went ahead and created another hugely more monstrous weapon: the nuclear bomb.
Coming out of this nuclear reality of the twentieth century, Lifton grasped at global warming as another encompassing reality interacting with nuclear weapons “in the darkness of that apocalyptic category.” He connects the 2015 UN Paris Climate Conference with a “dark vision of massive death and violence.”
In fact, all countries know, or suspect, the future will be unforgiving. The apocalyptic twins are surrounding the Earth. Nuclear states maintain thousands of nukes on the ready to commit global mayhem. Climate change, says Lifton, is “rampant, irreversible, and more powerful than any antidote we may bring to it.”
Lifton also sees the absurdity of global warming. No need to fight a war. Just keep the fossil fuels in business: “We needn’t do anything – other than what we are already doing – to endanger the future of our species,” he writes.
Lifton praises Pope Francis for his 2015 encyclical urging the “ecological conversion” of all people. That’s wonderful. But if the Pope were serious, he would excommunicate the CEOs of fossil fuel companies. Excommunication is a weapon of tremendous power, especially in these times when Trump and his oil company cronies think nothing of lighting more fire under the hot Earth.
Lifton was also too gentle with fossil fuel executives. Instead of characterizing their strategies of using all fossil fuels they own as a case of stranded ethics, I would argue for something stronger: Immoral bordering on the criminal.
Why are they not leaving fossil fuels in the ground? Don’t they love their grandchildren?
Read Lifton’s book. It is packed with wisdom.