Ian McEwan is one of my favourite writers. By chance, whilst reading George Monbiot’s latest offering in the Guardian this morning, I stumbled on a link to an essay by McEwan welcoming Barack Obama, outlining the considerable climate policy challenge he (and we) face. The world’s last chance is a superb summary of the current situation, and a masterful piece of writing. Any article that starts like this deserves a read:
‘I refute it thus!” was Samuel Johnson’s famous, beefy riposte one morning after church in 1763. As he spoke, according to his friend James Boswell, he kicked “with mighty force” a large stone “till he rebounded from it”. The good doctor was contesting Bishop Berkeley’s philosophical idealism, the view that the external, physical world does not exist and is the product of the mind. It was never much of a disproof, but we can sympathise with its sturdy common sense and physical display of Anglo-Saxon, if not Anglican, pragmatism.
Still, we may have proved Berkeley partially correct; in an age of electronic media, where rumour, opinion and fact are tightly interleaved, and where politicians must sing to compete for our love, public affairs have the quality of a waking dream, a collective solipsism whose precise connection to the world of kickable stones is obscure, though we are certain that it exists.
His take on the state of play echoes mine (and Monbiot’s), but he puts it much better than I (or Monbiot) ever will:
Within the climate science community there is a faction darkly murmuring that it is already too late. The more widely held view is hardly more reassuring: we have less than eight years to start making a significant impact on CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, eight years to move from Berkeley’s solipsism to Johnson’s pragmatism. Thereafter, as tipping points are reached, as feedback loops strengthen, the emissions curve will rise too quickly for us to restrain it. In the words of John Schellnhuber, one of Europe’s leading climate scientists and chief scientific adviser to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, “what is required is an industrial revolution for sustainability, starting now”.
If you read nothing else today, read this. And the Monbiot’s worth a look too, as is the Nick Cave title reference…