Week 4 – Bruckner’s The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse + Environmental News Item

Thoughts on The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse:

With a title like this, I’m not entirely surprised that the book was loaded with pessimistic, radical viewpoints imposed by some French philosopher. While I found many of his statements to be of interest and intellect, it just all seemed way too much. I am generally a pessimist myself, but even I have a crapload more optimism for the future than this author and everyone he cites throughout the book.

Pascal Bruckner has provided an extensive amount of quotable material, and so I am about to lay out a few examples of random, probably unrelated quotes that I liked:

“We squabble with one another while missing the essential point: the fate of the material world that we are destroying by our little schemes. For centuries, we have waged war on the world by trying to dominate it; now we have to wage war on war, sign an armistice with water, trees, stones, the oceans.” (11)

“Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning millions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.” (14)

  • I find this quote ironic because Bruckner dedicated the book to his two children, Eric and Anna

“‘Our way of life is unsustainable ecologically as well as morally. However, even if it could go on indefinitely, it would still be unbearable and it would be desirable to change it.’ For such opponents of growth, there is no point in trying to develop this world; they would prefer to eliminate it altogether.” (148)

A chapter that I really did like from this book, however, was “Have the Courage to be Afraid” (pages 24-48). This chapter heavily discussed the contradictions associated with fear and hope, and I felt as though it was relatable to our modern world (I understand that this book is considered ‘modern,’ but hopefully you get my point). It makes me think about the current crisis with straws and plastic in general. Recently, Starbucks banned the use of straws from many of their stores, and they have replaced straws with new plastic lids. How does this make any sense whatsoever? There’s more surface area of plastic in a lid than there is in a straw. If straws are already permeating the planet and creating multiple issues partly because they’re not degradable, then how is a plastic lid going to solve the issue? It confuses me so much, and it seems to me that this was a way to convey a glimmer of hope in a seemingly gloomy future for wildlife that is impacted by plastics. The beginning of the section “Trained to panic” (29) portrays this whole idea within a few sentences:

“Fear is injected by the repetition of the same themes, and it becomes a narcotic we can no longer do without. To wake others up, people boldly go to extremes. … An unchanging rhetorical figure, well known to preachers and propagandists, recurs in the cataclysmic discourse: that of retroactive correction. It proceeds by accumulating new horrors that it ends up tempering with a thin ray of hope. … To then offer ‘recommendations’ is to contradict the gravity of the message. … The enormity of the diagnosis, the absurd inadequacy of the remedies.”

It is these next two sentences, specifically, that remind me of the issue with banning straws:

“Since we have been dispossessed of any power with respect to the planet, we’re going to convert this impotence into little propitiatory gestures, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, becoming vegetarians, riding bicycles – anything that gives us the illusion of acting. Let’s be clear: a cosmic calamity is not going to be averted by eating vegetables and sorting out rubbish.”

While I do understand the benefits of doing all of these things – restricting a meat-based diet, being efficient with energy, reducing the use of plastics (like in straws) – I can’t help but agree with Bruckner. There are times when these small actions that take place in individuals don’t add up to complete the whole picture.

I am not saying that there’s no hope for the future of humanity and that we are all destined to a doomed existence within the next several centuries. I just think that there are instances when it is appropriate to not be entirely optimistic. Instilling fear into the minds of people only to then retract that fear by saying that ‘everything will be alright’ if we all change our habits is beyond contradictory and is not realistic. Reducing our use of plastics and such is excellent and should be encouraged, but should not be induced as a threat if people choose not to reduce plastic (or other conservation-related topics). Overall, I have hope in humanity, and I do believe that we can change the current predicament in which our planet currently exists.


Environmental news item:

NASA space laser will track Earth’s melting poles and disappearing sea ice

On September 15th, 2018, NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-2) will be launched into space from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. With this satellite, NASA will be able to gauge changes in Earth’s elevation, specifically in areas of melting ice. In case an ice shelf is about to collapse into the sea, scientists can put together an observing campaign right away. It will also be used to measure canopy height of high-latitude forests when it isn’t watching ice sheets. This can be used to measure carbon stored in trees.




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