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A MODEST INHERITANCE

________ JAMES LOVELOCK _________

In the event o f a world catastrophe, future generations will need a book o f knowledge to guide them in rebuilding civilization.

Pe r h a p s j u l i a n s i m o n s is r ig h t to th ink all will be well for th e next few decades. H e sees the g row th o f resources sufficient to meet d em and . H e th inks it p ro b ab le th a t th e fu tu re a i r will be w a rm e r and still polluted bu t not enough to cause discom fort. T h e re may be more o f us in some places. T h e r e will be more cars b u t they will be sm a lle r and more efficient. H e expects no worse th a n this for a t least th e next tw en ty years.

O th e r s , like P au l E h rlich , see a m uch gloom ier fu tu re . M o s t o f us believe in the m axim “ Business as u su a l” an d so we behave like the in h a b i ta n ts o f Tokyo and Los Angeles. W e p u t th oughts ab o u t the e a r th quake a t th e back o f ou r m inds. We ac t in the hope th a t th e world will continue in to th e tw enty-first cen tu ry m uch as it is now.

Few trav e lle rs from the N o rth would go to th e tro p ic a l South w ith ou t antim a la r ia l d ru g s , o r w ith ou t checking how the nearby local w a r was p rogressing. By com parison our jo u rn ey in to the fu tu re is am azingly unprepared. W here people know well the local d anger, as in Tokyo, they p rep a re for th e e a r th q u ak e to come. W hen the th re a ts a re global in scale we ignore them . Volcanoes, like T am b o u ra 1814 a n d Laki 1783, were m uch more powerful th a n was P in a tu bo o r K rakatoa. T h ey affected th e clim a te enough to cause fam ine, even when ou r num bers were only a te n th as m any as now. Should one o f these volcanoes stage a rep e a t perform ance, do we have now enough sto red food for tom o rrow ’s m u ltitu des? I f p a r t o f a Southern glacial ice sheet slid in to the sea, the level o f th e sea m ight rise by a metre all over the world. T h is event would ren d e r homeless millions o f those living in coastal cities. C itizen s would suddenly become refugees. Do we have the food a n d shelter needed when cities such as London, C a lc u t ta , M iam i and R o t te rd am become uninhabitable?

We a re sensible and we do not agonize over these possible doom scenarios. We prefer to assum e th a t they will not h appen in ou r lifetim es. We take th em no more seriously th a n our fo refathers took the p ro sp ec t o f hell, b u t the th ought o f ap p e a r in g foolish still scares us. An old verse goes, “ T h ey th ieve and plot an d toil and p lod and go to church on Sunday. I t ’s tru e enough th a t some fear God bu t they all fear M rs G ru n d y .”

In science we have ou r D rs G ru ndy also. T h ey a re all too eager to scorn any d e p a r tu re from th e perceived dogma. Scientists a n d science advisers a re afraid to adm i t th a t som e tim es they do not know w hat will happen. T h ey are cau tio u s ab o u t th e ir p red ic tio ns and do not care to speak in a way th a t m igh t th rea ten business as usual. T h is te ndency leaves us unp re p a re d for a c a ta s tro p h e such as a global event th a t was wholly unexpected a n d u n p r e d ic ted — som e th ing like th e ozone hole b u t m uch more serious. Som eth ing th a t could th row us in to a new d a rk age.

We can neither p rep a re ag a in s t all possibilities, nor easily change our ways enough to s top b reeding and polluting. Those who believe in the p re c au tio n a ry principle would have us give up, or greatly decrease, bu rn in g fossil fuel. They w a rn th a t the carbon d io x id e b y -p ro duct o f th is energy source may sooner or la te r change, or even destabilize, the clim ate.

Most o f us know in ou r hearts th a t these w arnings should be heeded but know not w hat to do ab o u t it. Few o f us will reduce our personal use o f fossil fuel energy to w arm , o r cool, our homes o r drive our cars. We suspect th a t we should not w a it to ac t until th e re is visible evidence o f malign clim a te change — by th en it m igh t be too la te to reverse the changes we have set in motion. We a re like the sm oker who enjoys a c ig arette and im agines giving up smoking when th e harm becomes tangible. M ost o f all, we hope for a good life in the im m ed ia te fu tu re and would ra th e r pu t aside u np le a san t thoughts o f doom to come.

WE C A N N O T REGARD the fu tu re o f the civilized world in the sam e way as we see our personal futures. I t is careless to be cavalier about ou r own d ea th . I t is reckless to th ink o f civilizat io n ’s end in the sam e way. Even if a to le rab le fu tu re is p ro bable, it is still unwise to ignore the possibility of disaster.

O n e th ing we can do to lessen the consequences o f ca ta s tro p h e is to write a guide-book for ou r survivors to help th em rebuild c iv iliz ation w ith out rep ea tin g too m any o f ou r mistakes. I have long th ought th a t a p ro per gift for ou r ch ild ren and g ran d ch ild ren is an accu ra te record o f all we know about the p resent and p a s t environm ent. Sandy and I enjoy walking on D a r t moor, m uch o f w h ich is featureless m oorland. O n such a la ndscape it is easy to get lost when it grows d a rk and the m ists come down. We usually avoid this m ish ap by m aking sure th a t always we know where we a re and w hat was the p a th we took. In some ways our jo u rn ey in to the fu tu re is like this. We c a n ’t see the way ahead or the p itfalls b u t it would help to know w hat is the s ta te now and how we got here. I t would help to have a guide-book w ritte n in c lear and sim ple words th a t any in te llig ent person could u n d e r s ta nd.

No such book exists. For most o f us, w hat we know o f the E a r th comes from books and television p rogram m es th a t p resen t e i th e r the single-m inded view o f a specialist, or persuasion from a ta len ted lobbyist. We live in adversarial not thoughtful tim es and tend to hear only th e a rg um e n ts o f each o f the sp e c ia l- in te re s t g roups. Even when they know th a t they a re w rong they never adm i t it. T h ey all fight for the in te rests o f th e ir g ro up while claim ing to speak for hum ank in d . T h is is fine en te r ta inm en t ; bu t w h a t use would th e ir words be to th e survivors o f a fu tu re flood o r fam ine? W hen they read them in a book d raw n from the

1 6 R e s u r g e n c e N o . 181

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