Everything’s Coming Together While Everything Falls Apart


Fossil Fuels

The Earth's changing climate is forcing us to find ways to leave behind the age of fossil fuels.

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.

It was the most thrilling bureaucratic document I’ve ever seen for just one reason: it was dated the 21st day of the month of Thermidor in the Year Six. Written in sepia ink on heavy paper, it recorded an ordinary land auction in France in what we would call the late summer of 1798. But the extraordinary date signaled that it was created when the French Revolution was still the overarching reality of everyday life and such fundamentals as the distribution of power and the nature of government had been reborn in astonishing ways. The new calendar that renamed 1792 as Year One had, after all, been created to start society all over again.

In that little junk shop on a quiet street in San Francisco, I held a relic from one of the great upheavals of the last millennium. It made me think of a remarkable statement the great feminist fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin had made only a few weeks earlier. In the course of a speech she gave while accepting a book award she noted, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

That document I held was written only a few years after the French had gotten over the idea that the divine right of kings was an inescapable reality. The revolutionaries had executed their king for his crimes and were then trying out other forms of government. It’s popular to say that the experiment failed, but that’s too narrow an interpretation. France never again regressed to an absolutist monarchy and its experiments inspired other liberatory movements around the world (while terrifying monarchs and aristocrats everywhere).

1/13/2015 6:29:12 AM

Thanks for the uplifting story. I have studied climate for a number of years, and I also have studied how people respond to environmental issues when they learn about them. There are also some scientists that feel it may be too late. Most wouldn't recommend doing nothing, I don't think. The despair felt when realizing the scope of the problem is more than an excuse for doing nothing: it is a real psychological barrier. We need to take that into account when teaching and motivating people.

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