‘We’re going to pay big’: a shocking new book on the climate crisis | Books
In An Inconvenient Apocalypse, authors Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen present themselves as the heralds of very bad news: the collapse of society on a global scale is inevitable, and those who manage to survive mass death and collapse of the world as we know it will have living in radically changed circumstances. According to Jackson and Jensen, there’s no avoiding this collapse – electric cars aren’t going to save us, and neither are global climate agreements. The current way of doing things is doomed, and it’s up to us to prepare as best we can to ensure the softest possible landing when the inevitable apocalypse arrives.
“The book tries to be upfront and honest about the depth of the crisis,” Jensen said, “and to be upfront and honest about current solutions, which do nothing to address the depth of the crisis.” Jackson added: “Now humanity is on a whole other journey than a hunt and gather society. I saw that we were going to pay for this one day, and we are going to pay a lot.
Jackson and Jensen make an interesting couple. The first is a longtime agronomist, having spent his career studying the problem of soil erosion and developing The Land Institute, which seeks to develop cereals that can be used for sustainable agriculture. For his efforts, he earned a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and a Right Livelihood Award, among other accolades. Jensen is a longtime journalist who has written books on ecology, masculinity, and radical feminism. He received backlash for advocating exclusive and harmful views against transgender people, specifically targeting transgender women, and in response to criticism, he doubled down on these views, continuing to promulgate them.
According to Jackson and Jensen, the dawn of agriculture represents something like original sin. This is what has brought humanity down the path of increasing energy consumption and material wealth that has brought us to the current ecological crisis. Through this reading of human history, the authors seem to argue that our trajectory as a technological species capable of high energy consumption and large-scale agriculture is a mistake that has taken us where we never should have been, and doomed us. . In conversation, Jackson endorsed this view, telling me that our way of life has “got us into a big Ponzi scheme that we’ve probably had for 10,000 years. We know how Ponzi schemes tend to end. These are not good things to deal with.
The answer to this Ponzi scheme is to reduce humanity from the current 7.7 billion people to 2 or 3 billion more sustainable. An Inconvenient Apocalypse does not describe exactly how this population decline will occur, nor does it take into account the enormous trauma that the elimination of the majority of humanity will inflict on humans and our societies. Although the book is theoretically oriented towards social justice, the authors make no effort to take into account that such a population decline would likely be an absolute disaster for marginalized ethnicities and sexualities, people with disabilities or suffering from mental disorders, and basically anyone deemed unfit. to survive in the new world. In conversation, Jensen offered this explanation:
“A lot of past discussion of population control was based on white supremacy, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the question of what a sustainable population is. It’s the kind of thing that people bristled at. We have no solution. But the fact that there are no easy and obvious solutions does not mean that you can ignore the problem.
According to Jackson and Jensen, once the collapse occurs and Earth’s population dwindles, it is up to humans to figure out how to live in a “low energy” future – that is, a future where fossil fuels are no longer being used and where we are essentially going back to relying on our own muscles and those of beasts of burden. In terms of what this low-energy world might look like, An Inconvenient Apocalypse articulates a philosophy that might come down to the paleo diet, but for society. Because 10,000 years of so-called progress has left us in a “desperate situation”, the answer is to look back to the prehistoric millennia before humans developed agriculture, began to write their history and built hierarchies. social. Insofar as An Inconvenient Apocalypse describes what that future might look like, it involves merchants and farm laborers being elevated to the highest ranks of society, the wealthy dropping a few notches, a complete elimination of the cosmopolitan and consumerist world and religion playing a leading role. We are tempted to sum it up by “making the Earth great again”.
The world of An Inconvenient Apocalypse is very dark, and also without middle ground. The authors write that “the future of continuous, endless expansion that we have long imagined is over and a new future defined by contraction is ahead.” Any attempt to find some kind of middle way through these two poles is simply “denying, minimizing and ignoring” a problem we all have to deal with. The emphasis in this book is on being direct and stating truths that the authors believe to be self-evident—Jackson and Jensen make little effort to make their case or convince others. To be fair, Jackson and Jensen seem to be aware that their style will put many off, stating that they expect many readers to simply give up on their book. Jensen said, “We set out to write a book that, in some sense, everyone will have a reason not to like.”
For a book predicting the mass death of most of humanity and the end of life as we know it, An Inconvenient Apocalypse is terribly cerebral. There’s virtually no room for acknowledging – let alone addressing – the emotional impact such a message will have on authors and their readers. This can make the book cold and condescending. In the conversation, Jensen showed more vulnerability, offering up some of the feelings his view of humanity sparked in him. In the opinion of this reader, letting this vulnerability pass more often in An Inconvenient Apocalypse would have made for a more relevant and ultimately more convincing reading:
“I’ve struggled with what that means in everyday life,” and Jensen, “and those are tough questions. It’s about fighting that feeling of grief, rather than trying to avoid it. And when you struggle with that, it means you don’t wake up every day on the sunny side of the street. It weighs on many of us. My goal is simply to open a space for people to say what they think.