In a recent article on the Huffington Post, Deepak Chopra analyzed current political and social deadlock on global warming in an attempt to come up with a meaningful and rational response to inaction by our most recent crop of political leaders. Given Deepak’s stature and reputation for peacemaking, this is a rather tough issue for him to take on. In doing so he listed a number of, what he considered to be, viable responses to the problem. He noted:
“One can react to this situation in various ways, leading to a choice of tactics.
— Mount a vigorous public crusade with greater signals of alarm.
— Rely on future technology to reverse the harm done to the atmosphere.
— Prepare for a future with a drastically different ecological balance.
— Do nothing, except perhaps pray.
— Temporize until the catastrophe cannot be ignored.”
Deepak noted that reliance on silver bullet technologies was basically the equivalent of magical thinking, and he tended to detract from those raising a general alarm over global warming. He also noted that adaptation was probably not the best strategy. However, what was most amazing about his essay is his final recommendation: temporizing which is essentially waiting until the problem is too dire to ignore.
“If you decide that the real issue is not Nature but human nature, then only a few options are viable. Human nature has a track record. We know, for example, that past ecological disasters, such as turning the Sahara into a desert, denuding Spanish forests, and burning all the usable fuel on Easter Island, could have been averted but weren’t… The tactic that will prevail is “Temporize until the catastrophe cannot be ignored.””
Unfortunately, Deepak’s logic contains in it a deadly flaw. In all of the situations listed above, waiting until the problem was too obvious to be ignored was waiting far too long. It was obvious that the Easter Islanders — who rebelled against their wasteful chieftains after their island had been denuded of forests waited too long. The Africans who were losing their farmland to the Sahara simply waited until the desert was at their doorsteps. This clearly didn’t solve the problem.
In fact, the attitude of waiting until the problem is too obvious to ignore, which Deepak identifies as ‘the tactic that will previal’ is the tactic of all those societies that have been consigned to the dark closet of history. There is no hope for it. First because the capacity for humans to deny a problem exists can make obvious problems seem invisible. Look at all the terrible cases in human history where people continued to ignore a problem they were causing or an atrocity they were a part of. Look at the driving of the buffalo to extinction in the American west, or our genocide of the Native Americans. Look at Germany’s turning away from its own atrocities during World War II. Look at the entire centuries that passed as we looked away from slavery. Consider our current looking away from exploitation of the poor by international corporations for slave-wage labor.
Temporizing and denial is a huge part of our problem. Most of us simply do not wish to believe that we or our fellow human beings are capable of such terrible action or inaction. Yet, time and again, history proves us wrong.
By seeming to promote temporizing, Deepak is recommending that we all become enablers and accessories to the terrible damage that will result from an unchecked global warming. His advice seems to be to appease the greenhouse gas emitters and those among us who benefit most from the concentration of wealth enabled by the cornering of increasingly scarce fossil fuel resources. But this is the path the Easter Islanders took. This is the path of the wreckage of history. And we, decidedly, do not want to be on this path.