How to think about global warming? I have all my life had a need to structure my thoughts into tentative categories as a way to remember and to orientate myself. Global warming represents a challenge to this habit because it is so holistic, – ultimately it relates to everything. It happens everywhere – even in space, there is global warming on Mars, for example. Warming and cooling have always happened throughout the human, as well as, the geological history of the earth. Human societies have again and again collapsed as a result of changes in the environment, – changes that the local community, for a multitude of different reasons, was unable to stop or to adjust to. The same has happened to animal populations, to plants and to bacteria. Well, some survived and life on earth continued.
It is amazingly easy to say that collapses have happened before, long ago, far away, repeatedly. Collapses are easy to categorize and analyse and, indeed, to forget and ignore. Facing the collapse of your own habitat is devastating. Maybe this can explain to some extent why the rich world is so willing to organise “Global Conferences” like the one in Copenhagen in December 2009, but not very willing to do something drastic to change the course … not even willing to seriously propose something drastic. The financial, intellectual and political elites of the world are aware of the threat, but they think that they have the resources to prevail for themselves … a chilling thought …. But, again, this is just normal human behaviour.
That’s why I am afraid that I, reluctantly, must agree with James Lovelock when he claims that mankind may not be intelligent enough to avoid the collapse. Even if we may have the technical know-how needed to act in a way that would make a decisive difference for mankind, we do not seem to have the social skills; evolution did not provide us with the groupmind needed to act together. In the process of natural selection, “global altruism” never became a superior feature of our genome. Fighting other tribes to ensure the survival of your own was and still is all we have.If we today would be attacked by aliens from outer space then mankind would probably unite and fight for survival together. The irony is that as global warming does not come in the form of a recognizable enemy our genes do not signal us to unite our forces.
That seems to be the conclusion, but somehow I cannot accept it. Dawkins in his classic book “The Selfish Gene” ends with a speculation that memes (i.e. ideas) are taking over as a more efficient way to help the best individuals to survive. So, will thinking aloud, or perhaps screaming loudly, be the best response I can offer?