As in: ‘This is Mother Earth. May Day! May Day!’

I finished listening to Atlas Shrugged – a brisk 160-mile walk – with the modern world basically destroyed by the end, thanks to the taxers, the do-gooders, and the regulators (but primed for resurrection in a zero-tax world of heroic industrialists, the three best looking of whom are all desperately in love with heroine Dagny Taggart) . . . and now I’ve begin reading Collapse, a 50-mile walk, give or take, but which already, after just the chapters on Montana and Easter Island, has the modern world headed for catastrophe, thanks to those who would not tax, do good, or regulate.

I felt no threat from the bogeymen of Atlas Shrugged. It’s a great story, but I think we hardly have to worry about the dangers Ayn Rand foresaw.

Collapse, on the other hand – at least based on what I’ve read so far – should be must reading for every passenger of Spaceship Earth. What do we do if the bees go? What do we do if the fish go? What do we do if the climate goes? What do we do is the soil goes? Where do we go if we poison our space ship? If these things strike you as far-fetched, you’re not paying attention. A lot of people used to live on Easter Island – but eventually they started eating each other. (Or maybe that was Pitcairn Island; with the book on my iPod, it’s hard to go back and check.)

Montana is a lot bigger than Easter Island, but you will be surprised, or at least I was, to learn of its problems. And the planet is a lot bigger than Montana. But in even the short time I’ve been alive, we’ve considerably more than doubled the population of our species, adding 4 billion consumers/polluters (and, if push came to shove, cannibals/meals).

Technology could be our deus ex machina (Deus Himself seems too pissed off to rescue us) – a Silicon Valley mega-hot-shot I spoke with over the weekend tells me it will be cheaper to put solar panels on California roofs ten years from now than it is to buy electricity from the grid today – and yet technology also gives us the potential for nuclear contamination and all manner of non-nuclear unintended consequences. We invent DDT to keep pests from destroying our crops, but that leads to worse problems . . .

Anyway: read Collapse. (To go back to our only very recent awakening to all this, read Silent Spring. ‘We spray our elms; and the following springs are silent of robins’ songs. Not because we sprayed the robins directly, but because the poison traveled, step by step, through the now familiar elm leaf, earth worm, robin cycle. . .’)

And just for fun, while you’re in the mood for eco-horror flicks, take a moment to read George Will’s recent breezy column (thanks, Peter!), based on Timothy Egan’s ‘astonishing and moving’ The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Consider it a sort of teaser to Collapse . . . a taste of the catastrophes that are possible when we meddle with Mother Nature:

On May 10, 1934, a collection of dust storms moved over the Midwest carrying, Egan says, “three tons of dust for every American alive.” It dumped 6,000 tons on Chicago that night. By morning, the storm was 1,800 miles wide — “a great rectangle of dust” weighing 350 million tons — and was depositing the surface of the Great Plains on New York City, where commerce stopped in the semi-darkness. . . .

☞ More than a little Easter Islandish, as you will see.


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