Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
Chapter 6
The Ruins to Come
If we face the reality of climate change honestly, taking into account how
urgent a task lies before us and how dim is any hope we will act in time,
we must acknowledge that a great shadow darkens our present moment.
The biosphere changes apace; the land dries, the ice cap melts, the forests
burn; those who lead our public institutions debate, stuter, and go silent;
the prospect on which we rely throughout our daily activities erodes
and falters; and the hope that inspires our political lives flickers and goes
dark. We have always taken for granted that a livable future lies before us,
that whatever happens to us now, tomorrow is another day. But we can
no longer be so sure.
Human societies have always had a strong image of the future.
Traditional societies have assumed that the future will be much like the
present—that the tribe, kingdom, or nation will continue to replicate
itself, generation by generation, sustaining the link to the gods, the legacy
of the ancestors, and the fundamental human ways in perpetuity. Modern
societies, in contrast, have held forth the image of the general liberation
of the human race, so that at some point in the future no oppression or
poverty, no ignorance or violence would afflict the Earth.
These images of the future, however, have relied on the even more
basic assumption, never previously called into question, that the planet's
ecosystems would remain intact and flourishing forever. The seemingly
indestructible continuity of the living systems that surround us has made
all our imaginings possible. But what happens if that continuity is in
question—when we begin to realize that the Earth's ecosystems are vul-
nerable to destruction or decay?
Our first task in confronting this question is simply to absorb the
signiicance of puting that continuity in doubt. How do our most basic
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