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BOOKS Armageddon alert

An important new book warns of the terminal consequences if we continue to ignore the inter-related environmental, social and political crises besetting the planet, says GORDON PARSONS

How Everything Can Collapse
by Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens
Polity, £14.99

THERE’S a tragic irony that this momentous book, which must have been written well before the coronavirus struck, is published precisely at this time.

Its French authors are “collapsologists,” that relatively new breed of scientists exploring the potential total and irreversible breakdown of our industrial energy-driven world system owing to the interrelated convergence of the multiple crises facing our planet.

Whereas this collapse of everything could have been dismissed as yet another science fiction predicting our civilisation’s Armageddon, the advent of Covid-19 must shake the confidence of any naysayer.

The authors recognise that many reject forecasts of potential impending doom, either retiring into millenarian fatalism or putting their faith in technical and scientific prowess.

But they note that The Limits to Growth, a late 1960s report by MIT scientists on the long-term prospects of the “world” system, found that “a widespread collapse of our thermoindustrial civilisation will most likely take place during the first half of the 21st century.”
 
Yet despite evidence for this finding emerging daily, Servigne and Stevens understand that those resistant to the weight of the objective research-supported information marshalled in their book may not be convinced that it constitutes formal proof that we are on the brink of a major collapse. But it does “increase your knowledge so you can refine your intuition and finally act with conviction.”

Although metaphor in argument can often be deceptive, the authors’ use of a car as the image of our system — they rarely use that other  “C” word, capitalism —  does serve to illustrate that the ever-increasing drive for growth is leading us to break both manmade limits and cross nature’s boundaries.

A car crash is inevitable if we do not take our foot off the accelerator and handle the steering more carefully.

Of course, global warming and the attrition of the ecology that sustains life — from the threatening extinction of bees to the destruction of the forest lungs of our planet — have, until the advent of our current pandemic, been at the forefront of public concerns and alarm.

In the background, the continuing wars and their concomitant refugee, famine and health fears have been put on the media backburner. The authors see this response to increasing crises as dangerous, almost a crisis in itself.

We respond relatively slowly and separately as and when we are alerted by our fickle media, whereas these crises are essentially and cumulatively inter-related.

History proves that human beings have the resilience to survive single catastrophes, but a sudden explosion of world problems, triggered perhaps by something like a pandemic that shatters our global economic system, could destroy not the physical world but the world the human race has built over millennia and subsequently destroyed.

If the first part of this book lays out the objective evidence in support of its fateful predictions, the authors then address how we can and must act now if those predictions are not to be realised. “The certainty is that we shall never again be in the ‘normal’ situation that we experienced over the past few decades,” they contend.
 
When we emerge shell-shocked from the present crisis sparked by the pandemic, in the words of the authors, “some will be obsessed on returning to the previous order, others will be focused on the sustainability of existing institutions and still others take advantage of the situation to change the social order.” The choice will be ours.

As our biosphere burns, we either fiddle the same old tune or read this book and act.

 

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