“Lo, sleep is good; better is death; in sooth, the best of all were never to be born.”
— Heinrich Heine, as quoted in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh
“It seems as though it is necessary for us to destroy some other thing or person in order not to destroy ourselves, in order to guard against the impulsion to self-destruction.”
— Sigmund Freud
The human folly was on full display when the People’s Republic of China joined hands with the Republic of India to fight back an international response to global warming and climate change. Millions of their citizens live in a plume of smog so toxic that many choose to wear respiratory masks. Dramatically altered weather patterns and catastrophic storms devastate crops, infrastructure and populations on an unprecedented scale, yet these nations held to their god given right to continue spewing poisons into the atmosphere.
The human folly marches on with a growing army of religious warriors inspired by medieval philosophy. It is better to die than to accept that others do not embrace the same beliefs. It is better to kill than to tolerate the very existence of others. An eye for an eye until all the world is blind .
Only the death wish, innate in the human soul, can bring together and explain the simultaneous phenomena of climate change denial and the Islamic State. The dueling forces of destruction of the other and destruction of the self join forces in a dance of death and a celebration of the ultimate end game. Armageddon as its own reward.
The time approaches when humanity in all its tribal divisions must accept that no single culture, religion or philosophy holds a patent on the truth. Humans are fallible and gods are our creations. When we attribute infallibility to non-scientific truths we block the path to evolution and preclude the best of human nature from taking hold.
The planet is not in danger. The earth abides and likely will for millennia to come. It is the human species that endangers itself – along with countless other species of organic life. Maybe that is the solution after all. Maybe we have subconsciously prescribed a culling of the pack. Only who is to say that the prescription we have devised is wise? In nature the weak and the old are the first to fall, enhancing the survivability of the whole. But we have devised means of destruction that too often do not discriminate between the weak and the strong, the wise and the foolish, the worthy and the unworthy.
And what of our legacy? What have we prescribed for future generations? Have we condemned them to live out our dark visions of a post-apocalyptic world?
We have a responsibility to do better for our descendants as well as ourselves. We have a responsibility to create a future brighter than our past and more promising than our present.
To fulfill our responsibility to the future – arguably our fundamental purpose – we must be willing to sacrifice in the present. We must be willing to live with less. We must be willing to give up many of our comforts and conveniences. We must be willing to pay higher taxes for social benefit. We must be willing to take action proportionate to the crisis we confront.
Do not make the mistake of believing that any solution to our global crises is individual. The individual may assuage a sense of blame by contributing to charities, going solar, buying organic food, encouraging tolerance or supporting higher education. All these things are inherently good for the soul but no individual action will impact the course of history. Any real solution must occur at the social level and must ultimately gather the support of the world.
These are the kinds of self-sacrifice all faiths, all cultures and all societies should embrace. Among the sacrifices all nations should make is an immediate end to unnecessary war. In the history of civilization there is no greater waste of human and planetary resources than war. As we might have learned by now, one war leads to another and another until all the world erupts in violence or all sides refuse to go on fighting.
Of course, the latter would require a kind of courage rarely glimpsed in humankind. It would require that our aspirations for future generations overcome our fears of present enemies. It would require faith in our fellow humans to overcome their own fears.
Too often we fail to see the good in ourselves. Too often we are blind to that part of our enemies that holds a mirror to ourselves. Too often we cannot see the most obvious truth of all: We are all in this together and the dangers that threaten all of us are infinitely greater than the threats we present to each other.
The greatest threat to all nations, all societies, all religions and cultures, at this juncture in history, is climate change. Yes, there are other threats (nuclear annihilation) that could render much of the planet uninhabitable but this threat is clear and imminent.
We are not without hope. The Paris Agreement of December 2015, signed by 195 sovereign nations, was in fact the most hopeful development we have yet witnessed. While it is by no means sufficient to reverse the effects of global warming, it is the first time the world as a whole not only recognized the depth of the problem but also agreed to address it with real resources and a global strategy.
What is disheartening is the lack of response in this country. For the first time the tired climate-change denier excuse that it doesn’t matter what we do as long as China and India continue to pollute was laid to rest, yet Republican candidates for president pretend nothing has changed. The current leaders of the Republican pack suggested that they would pull out of the agreement. Meantime, on the Democratic side, the first debate since the accord (as far as I am aware) failed even to mention it. Part of the responsibility for that omission belongs to a media bent on covering the dog race or the most titillating stories of the day (barring another terrorist attack) but it also falls to the candidates for not insisting. (Note: In fairness, Senator Bernie Sanders was all but belittled for stating that climate change was a greater threat than ISIS in the last debate.)
What does this tell us? That we as a society do not particularly care about climate change and will not vote accordingly.
It is as though we as a people have decided to let all that climate change stuff play out on its own time. It is as though we’ve sold out future generations. Let them fend for themselves.
Maybe those dark philosophers had it right: We are wired to destroy others and ultimately to destroy ourselves. That is a dismal legacy to leave our descendants and every mother and father on the planet must fight back.
 Paraphrase of a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.