Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of Civilization
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Coming home from the war in Iraq, US Army private Roy Scranton thought he'd left the world of strife behind. Then he watched as new calamities struck America, heralding a threat far more dangerous than ISIS or Al Qaeda: Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, megadrought--the shock and awe of global warming.
Our world is changing. Rising seas, spiking temperatures, and extreme weather imperil global infrastructure, crops, and water supplies. Conflict, famine, plagues, and riots menace from every quarter. From war-stricken Baghdad to the melting Arctic, human-caused climate change poses a danger not only to political and economic stability, but to civilization itself . . . and to what it means to be human. Our greatest enemy, it turns out, is ourselves. The warmer, wetter, more chaotic world we now live in--the Anthropocene--demands a radical new vision of human life.
In this bracing response to climate change, Roy Scranton combines memoir, reportage, philosophy, and Zen wisdom to explore what it means to be human in a rapidly evolving world, taking readers on a journey through street protests, the latest findings of earth scientists, a historic UN summit, millennia of geological history, and the persistent vitality of ancient literature. Expanding on his influential New York Times essay (the #1 most-emailed article the day it appeared, and selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014), Scranton responds to the existential problem of global warming by arguing that in order to survive, we must come to terms with death.
Plato argued that to philosophize is to learn to die. If that’s true, says Scranton, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age—or this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The trouble now is that we must learn to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.
A war veteran, journalist, author, and Princeton PhD candidate, Roy Scranton has published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Boston Review, and Theory and Event, and has been interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air, among other media.
"Roy Scranton lucidly articulates the depth of the climate crisis with an honesty that is all too rare, then calls for a reimagined humanism that will help us meet our stormy future with as much decency as we can muster. While I don't share his conclusions about the potential for social movements to drive ambitious mitigation, this is a wise and important challenge from an elegant writer and original thinker. A critical intervention." --Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
"Perhaps it is because he is a soldier, perhaps it is because he is a literate human being, but the fact is--Roy Scranton gets it. He knows in his bones that this civilization is over. He knows it is high time to start again the human dance of making some other way to live. In his distinctive and original way he works though a common cultural inheritance, making it something fresh and new for these all too interesting times. This compressed, essential text offers both uncomfortable truths and unexpected joy." --McKenzie Wark, author of Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene
sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.”56 Nuclear fission, however, presents significant and perhaps insurmountable waste issues, and in order to reduce carbon emissions enough to keep CO2 below 450 ppm, the
coal and American consumption play in stoking China’s growth. The president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, complained about how little African countries have contributed to the problem and how much they stand to suffer, speaking poignantly about Mount Kilimanjaro’s disappearing glaciers. Baron Waqa, president of Nauru and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, argued passionately for more investment to help existentially threatened nations like his own adapt. Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli
sometime in the 21st or 20th century BCE, later lost for nearly 2,500 years, then recovered in the middle of the 19th century by an Assyrian archaeologist from Mosul named Hormuzd Rassam.113 The only reason the Epic survived was because it had been copied out by ancient scribes as rote training for more “important” bureaucratic and commercial work. The Epic tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, a “wild bull on the rampage” admired for his strength but resented for his despotism.114 As the
each seeking homeostatic perpetuation, and our lives and deaths pass through this great cycle like mosquitos rising and falling in a puddle drying in the summer sun. Life, whether for a mosquito, a person, or a civilization, is a constant process of becoming, a continual emergence into patterns of attraction and aversion, desire and suffering, pleasure and pain. Life is a flow. The forms it takes are transient. Death is nothing more than the act of passing from one pattern into another. Planets
single, unchanging existence, undivided within its divisions.121 We are finite and limited machines, but we are not merely machines: we are vibrating bodies of energy, condensations of stellar dust and fire, at once matter and life, extension and thought, moment and frequency. The iron in our blood, the oxygen we breathe, and the carbon of which we are composed were all created in the dying hearts of stars. We are creatures of light, and can find in our history the lineaments of a photohumanism