Labor Day is a time for reflection. One issue dwarfs all others. Our losing battle to preserve Planet Earth looms over us as our self-cooling planet moves toward becoming a self-heating planet—the point of no return. This column isn’t about science—the increasing levels of carbon emissions, rising sea levels, and melting ice caps—it’s about the trajectory of our suicidal decision-making.
In 1940, the author and American ex-patriot Henry Miller, set out in a 1932 Buick on a cross-country journey, recording his impressions of the land of his birth. The result, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, was published in 1945. In its pages, Miller offered a caustic take on America. As we near the end of another sweltering summer, in the face of our failure to confront the crisis of global warming and climate change, Miller’s prose can be read as prescient. He wrote:
“A new world is not made simply by trying to forget the old. A new world is made with a new spirit, with new values. … Our world is a world of things. It is made up of comforts and luxuries, or else the desire for them. What we dread most, in facing the impending debacle, is that we shall be obliged to give up our gew-gaws, our gadgets, all the little comforts which have made us so uncomfortable. There is nothing brave, chivalrous, heroic or magnanimous about our attitude. We are not peaceful souls; we are smug, timid, queasy and quirky.
“The land of opportunity has become the land of senseless sweat and struggle. The goal of all our striving has long been forgotten. We no longer wish to succor the oppressed and homeless; there is no room in this great empty land for those who, like our forefathers before us, now seek a place of refuge.
The land of opportunity has become the land of senseless sweat and struggle. — Henry Miller
“We tell the story as though man were an innocent victim, a helpless participant in the erratic and unpredictable revolutions of Nature. Perhaps in the past he was. But not any longer. Whatever happens to this earth today is of man’s doing. Man has demonstrated that he is master of everything—except his own nature. If yesterday he was a child of nature, today he is a responsible creature. He has reached a point of consciousness which permits him to lie to himself no longer. Destruction is deliberate, voluntary, self-induced. We are at the node: we can go forward or relapse. We still have the power of choice. Tomorrow we may not.”
We have been the recipients of warnings from generations of scientists—people who spend their lives in far-away outposts, in laboratories, measuring and studying and offering us their data. We ignore it all at our peril. Our grandchildren will not have the luxury of avoidance. They will be forced to confront the challenges of living on an over-heated planet. They will question why we avoided all evidence and neglected to make the necessary changes. They will hold us culpable. They will be right to do so.