George Monbiot on Collapse and Apocalyptic Outsiders

OK, I know I’ve had a go at George Monbiot over his initial misguided rant against Biochar, but eventually he backed down somewhat. But right now he’s one of my heroes for being able to despatch the lies of global warming Denialist Ian Plimer so efficiently, and also for his recent post on Apocalyptic Outsiders. So I’ve added the following post to my Doomer page.

George Monbiot sums up his thoughts on Apocalyptic Outsiders brilliantly in this conversation. The whole conversation is well worth reading, and I laughed when I saw the same old meme’s and exchanges and counter-exchanges resurfacing in this tired old argument. Apocalyptic Outsider’s can be so predictable, and so evasive, and so inconsistent! This paragraph,near the end of this exchange, made me laugh out loud.

Yes, the words I use are fierce, but yours are strangely neutral. I note that you have failed to answer my question about how many people the world could support without modern forms of energy and the systems they sustain, but 2 billion is surely the optimistic extreme. You describe this mass cull as “a long descent” or a “retreat to a saner world”. Have you ever considered a job in the Ministry of Defence press office?

This email sums up the various concerns I have with the Apocalyptic Outsider mentality.

Dear Paul

If I have understood you correctly, you are proposing to do nothing to prevent the likely collapse of industrial civilisation. You believe that instead of trying to replace fossil fuels with other energy sources, we should let the system slide. You go on to say that we should not fear this outcome.

How many people do you believe the world could support without either fossil fuels or an equivalent investment in alternative energy? How many would survive without modern industrial civilisation? Two billion? One billion? Under your vision several billion perish. And you tell me we have nothing to fear.

I find it hard to understand how you could be unaffected by this prospect. I accused you of denial before; this looks more like disavowal. I hear a perverse echo in your writing of the philosophies that most offend you: your macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from collapse mirrors the macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from endless growth. Both positions betray a refusal to engage with physical reality.

Your disavowal is informed by a misunderstanding. You maintain that modern industrial civilisation “is a weapon of planetary mass destruction”. Anyone apprised of the palaeolithic massacre of the African and Eurasian megafauna, or the extermination of the great beasts of the Americas, or the massive carbon pulse produced by deforestation in the Neolithic must be able to see that the weapon of planetary mass destruction is not the current culture, but humankind.

You would purge the planet of industrial civilisation, at the cost of billions of lives, only to discover that you have not invoked “a saner world” but just another phase of destruction.

Strange as it seems, a de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse. For the first time in our history we are well-informed about the extent and causes of our ecological crises, know what should be done to avert them, and have the global means – if only the political will were present – of preventing them. Faced with your alternative – sit back and watch billions die – Liberal Democracy 2.0 looks like a pretty good option.

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