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be like to experience it. We are inevitably unprepared for this event; it can
only take place when we are unaware.
Our tendency to keep the ruined future at a distance forces us into
a contradiction: if its arrival has not taken place, then evidently we still
have time (to argue about it in Congress, to negotiate new treaties, to pre-
pare to alter our technologies), as if it is still years away; if it has occurred,
then it's too late, and we need do nothing. Either way, we believe we
don't really have to do a thing. Perhaps here again we live in the ruins
of the future: modern culture has long since prided itself on its capacity
to control its conditions, to plan for contingencies, to predict trends, to
provide for long-term safety and security. The future, you could say, was
its specialty. But this time around, those who manage the future are in
over their heads. The future has been their specialty, just not this future.
This version, it seems, is by definition too much to handle: we caused it,
yet it eludes us, primarily because it contradicts our basic assumptions.
We've been making life much beter , not worse ; the thought of a devas-
tated future profoundly conflicts with everything we've been trying to
do. If the future is in ruins, so also is our expertise in the future. But then
the most basic premises of modern culture are in ruins as well.
At first glance, our way of enduring the prospect of these future ruins
may share much with how we respond to our own mortality. We cannot
know when our deaths may arrive; we might know that they will take
place eventually without taking that prospect seriously; we might even
have contracted a terminal disease without suspecting a thing. But does
it follow that pondering the ruins is something like contemplating our
own deaths? Are these meditations on dire events to come in some ways
the same? In an older religious tradition, believers once meditated on the
memento mori , a reminder of death such as a skull, to teach themselves
that they would die, that all their passionate atachments and ierce long-
ings would pass, that everything melts away, so as to set their sights on
eternity instead. More recently, philosophers such as Martin Heidegger
argued that the most authentic mode of being for us is being-toward-
death , the direct encounter with our mortality. 103
But this analogy ultimately fails. Climate change is absolutely vaster
than any individual's passing—even one's own. It is of another order of
business entirely. We all know that individuals will die in the ordinary
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