The Doomsday Book

December 29, 2019

61YJkcWyBfL._AC_UY218_ML3_   Way back when I was still a schoolboy I bought a remaindered book in a sale: The Doomsday Book, by Gordon Rattray Taylor. This must have been in the very early seventies, and I was reminded of this book and the way it shaped my life, when I came across a dusty and ancient copy of the book again a couple of weeks ago.

It was what would now be called popular science, and it was, as I recall, one of the earliest books to try and draw public attention to the problems of pollution, as these were known, seen and understood half a century ago. I remember being utterly shocked and horrified at the grim prognosis then, and vaguely recall a follow-up from the same author, called something like The Population Time-Bomb. For me, these were the first wake-up calls, the first awareness that as a species we were not innocent in our effects on the planet.

A few years later, as a student, I became a vegetarian, for health and ecological reasons, and began to try and be more careful about my impact on the planet. Over the years I have striven not to be wasteful and not to make trivial or unnecessary purchases; as re-use and recycling became more possible, I’ve tried to do these to the best of my ability, too. Lest anyone think that all I’m doing is virtue-signalling, I’ll admit to having owned and used a car for the last thirty years or so, although I’ll balance that by saying that I have never flown anywhere.

I know a good many people who have tried to operate in a similar fashion throughout their lives, too: I’m a member of a small food-buying co-op which comprises about a dozen households. And yet, as I read about the horrors of the climate emergency engulfing the planet, I feel increasingly that we’ve been pissing into the wind, or re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. I’m horrified at the world in which my children and grandchildren will have to live and grow old in. Where have we gone wrong? Because surely my generation bears a large share of the responsibility.

Our economic system has proved wonderful at making and selling stuff, and hiding its effect on our planet and on our individual health. And I’m not meaning to start an argument with feminists when I say that the system, over the past couple of generations, has engineered a shift in society and consumption habits which has meant that to support a family and a household and provide it with all the stuff it needs, it now takes both parents working.

Back in the days of the Cold War we used to talk about humans being the only species which had developed the means to destroy life on its home planet – and we meant through the use of nuclear weapons. Now we are managing to do it – a tad more slowly – through the manufacture and consumption of material goods.

I am incredibly pessimistic about our changing anything. First, the economic system will resist any attempt to curb its excesses: we can see that already. Second, we love the conveniences we are offered and don’t see the waste: the huge amount of energy needed to run data-centres so we can have everything in the cloud; the stupid waste of plastics in wrapping food, making one-use cups and bottles; the phenomenal amount of pollution created by cars… and so much more.

There is one factor I have identified and begun to think about over the last few years: the hippy movement of the late sixties and early seventies. It was all about self-liberation, breaking free of constraints, individual self-development – laudable aims in themselves, but so easily manipulated and perverted by the economic system into a chase after material objects and possessions, and the right to individual fulfilment and happiness through stuff. And because it was about individual happiness – allegedly – it gradually erased any reference to, or appreciation of anything shared or collective, including the shared planet. And it seems to me, once those floodgates were opened, the end was on its way. I’m as guilty as the rest of my generation here: the feelings of liberation were wonderful, and the costs only gradually became clear… and what we can now do about it, eludes me.

2 Responses to “The Doomsday Book”

  1. erikleo Says:

    I may be of the same generation as you; I’m 73 and remember The Doomsday Book as a title. I avidly read books by Ivan Ilich, Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toofler in the 60s and 70s. There is a wonderful book titled The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson which explores the ideas of such writers. The cards were on the table way back in the 60s and, yes, it is difficult to be opimistic about the future. I follow Soto Zen to the best of my ability and try and limit my carbon footprint etc etc!

    Like

    • litgaz Says:

      Yes, I recall all those authors, and Ivan Illich certainly had some influence on my choice of career as teacher, as well as how that progressed. I shall look out for the Ferguson book, which sounds very interesting. I am an Aquarian…

      Like


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