Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Civilisation Shifting

There is something happening which has gone (as far as I know) unnoticed but is indicative of a monumental shift in humanity's relationship with the outside world. It is embodied in a horror which is approaching us all, and yet its actuation reveals a new position for the human race in the scheme of existence. We are having to take responsibility for the environment. It possibly sounds a trifle obvious but the reality which underpins the change is fundamental.
The comparison I am going to use seems sacreligious but there is good reason for it. It is that of the dawn of agriculture in the Middle East - 10, 000 years ago. Threatened by scarcity resulting from a shift in the local climate, some bright hunter-gatherer came up with the idea of domesticating and encouraging the local plants upon which the people relied. This innovation has had untold and unprecedented affects for the human race and the natural world of which we are part. One of these affects, for instance ( if Ruddiman is right), may be the prevention of an ice age.
Why do I think we are about to witness a similar civilisational revelation? Because we have no choice. Because we have inadvertantly caused a crisis in climate the like of which has never been seen, and as soon as the consequences begin to bite (many deaths caused by sea level rise and ever increasingly severe storms, combined with the widespread failure of native crops) the clamour for an immediate salve for global warming will become irresistable.
What do I mean, a salve? Well, I mean a technological quick fix enabling the continuation of life on earth. Life is too precious (not least to ourselves) to let us consign it to history. This could take many different forms. But the important point is the intervention itself.
For, once that takes place, we will become the protectors of the earth. We will have assumed responsilbility, through necessity, for all life on earth and it's interactions. And implicit in that idea are consequences of which we can only begin to conceive. Climatic conditions created to optimise an areas resources, for instance. Directives allowing it to rain only at night. Who knows? It's going to be a strange ride!