Thursday, 13 December 2012

A New Catastrophism for a New Era

During the 1930s a small group of Polish poets, associated with Czeslaw Milosz, became known as the Catastrophist school of poets. Aleksander Fiut explained in World Literature Today –

"the inevitable annihilation of the highest values, especially the values essential to a given cultural system. . . . But it proclaims . . . only the annihilation of certain values, not values in general, and the destruction of a certain historical formation, but not of all mankind,"

Terrence Des Pres, writing in the Nation, states –

"political catastrophe has defined the nature of our . . . [age], and the result—the collision of personal and public realms—has produced a new kind of writer. Czeslaw Milosz is the perfect example. In exile from a world which no longer exists,... , Milosz deals in his poetry with the central issues of our time: the impact of history upon moral being, the search for ways to survive spiritual ruin in a ruined world."

The "central issues" of the time of the Catastrophist poets were the political and philosophical upheavals leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War and the writings of this group of poets ominously foreshadowed the horrors of that conflict. The world was dealing with the repercussions of the Great Depression - mass unemployment and social deprivation, the rise of extreme national political movements and authoritarian governments. The Catastrophist school of poetry was a reaction to a growing sense of global anxiety and fear for the future.

The central issues of our age are many and varied. We seem to be living in an age of crises - economic meldtdown, over population, climate change, water shortages, food shortages, peak oil and peak everything else, species extinction - the list just seems to keep growing...

During the Cold War we all lived with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. The likelihood of the Mutually Assured Destruction of an all-out thermonuclear exchange may have subsided but many other potential catastrophes are waiting in the wings. A new antibiotic resistant superbug released by accident or by design could unleash a catastrophic pandemic to ravage the world population. Recent erratic oscillations of the global climate system could precipitate an abrupt climatic shift into a new northern hemisphere ice age or runaway global warming. UG99 black stem rust striking major wheat producing regions, extinction of the honey bee through Colony Collapse Disorder or the general increase in extreme weather events could cause a dramatic drop-off in global food production leading to mass starvation, famine and general chaos and anarchy. The current plateau of oil production could at any time begin the inexorable slide down the back slope of Hubbert’s Peak leading to an ever increasing shortfall between supply and demand in turn leading to global recession and poverty, falling food production and famine and increasing political unrest and resource wars. Then of course there are Nature’s wild cards - Mt Everest sized asteroids like the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, super volcanoes like Mt Toba which took out 90% of the human population 70,000 years ago, Coronal Mass Ejections from our sun like the 1859 event which scientists believe was powerful enough to wipe out our satellite network and fry the global electricity grid plunging the world into a darkness from which we may never recover.

We are in a new era of Catastrophism.

‘The End of the World As We Know It’ does not have to mean the end of us as a species. We are living in a house of cards. If you take out a card, whether that be the oil card, the food card, the electricity card or the economy card, the result is likely to be the same. The whole precarious construct will come crashing down around us and the survivors will wake to a very different world.

The planet does NOT need saving, it has taken care of itself for billions of years and will continue to long after we fade into history.

What we need to save is us... from ourselves.

The only question is; do we deserve it...?

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