[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2019: CLIMATE, except where noted otherwise.]
[Right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 45+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]
[This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography. It isn’t that long. Just read it. Carefully.]
The Further Remarks section at the end of each issue, after Voices in Time, contains 3 or 4 contemporary, full-length (8+ pages usually) essays on the theme. All are available free.
A Climate of Change by Philipp Blom discusses the Little Ice Age and its effect on growth, exploration, and exploitation.
“It is one of the most celebrated, repeated, and misappropriated theatrical quotes in English: “Now is the winter of our discontent,” the beginning of Gloucester’s speech in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Whenever there is a political disagreement during the colder months, it is made out to be a winter of discontent. Perhaps this phrase will be less used in the future, as not the cold but the heat becomes a global challenge.”
“Winter was a word with particular resonance during Shakespeare’s [Troy, page 75] lifetime. It was the time of the so-called Little Ice Age, when regional temperatures dropped by as much as 2 degrees Celsius on average.”
“Two degrees Celsius may not seem a large number, but it is worth remembering that the difference between the average temperatures of the twentieth century and the last glacial maximum during the Ice Age twenty thousand years ago, when most of the Northern Hemisphere was encased under a thick carapace of glacial ice, amounted to 3.5 to 5 degrees Celsius on average.”
“A whole world had been turned upside down. During the most intensive period of the Little Ice Age, roughly from 1570 to 1685, feudal economies had changed into market-based ones; urban centers flourished; trade was becoming international, funded through stock markets and banking systems; the scientific method of theorizing and seeking empirical proof emerged; vast numbers of schools and universities were founded…”
“A medieval world had pivoted toward a modern one—not simply because of a domino effect beginning with the Little Ice Age but through a series of interlinked developments, all of which owed part of their urgency and dynamism to changes made necessary or encouraged by climate change.”
“From this cauldron of ideas and methods came a new way of thinking about human beings as creatures endowed with rights and freedom, and about the natural world, which began to be seen as a vast mechanism following mathematical principles, not divine will.”
“Ultimately, burning witches was seen as an ineffective remedy for poor harvests; different crops and techniques were found to work better. Eventually, a metaphorical and religious understanding of the world made way for Newton’s laws and Galileo’s elegant reorganization of the universe.
This has interesting implications. Existing expertise and institutions, theories and technologies, have been instrumental in causing and accelerating global heating.”
“It is ironic that growth based on exploitation, the secret of the West’s success and global dominance, has become the biggest threat to peace, prosperity, and safety.”
The discovery of fossil fuels—coal and later oil—changed the equation. The explosive growth in productivity enabled leaps in wealth, technology, and science as well as, for Western countries, an economic model of constant growth based on vastly increased consumption.”
“After evolving in the critical zone within the thin membrane of earth’s atmosphere and developing technologies that have far outpaced its long-term planning or understanding, Homo sapiens faces only one viable survival strategy, one borrowed from the seventeenth century: to invest in a paradigm shift in humanity’s relationship to the rest of nature and in self-perception.” (p. 185-191)
In case you didn’t catch his drift, Mr. Blom takes considerable exception with exploitation and consumer consumption. Paradigm shift, indeed. A sea change, a colossal transformation which needs to occur faster and greater than any in history. Who will lead us? Greta? M’lady and I downsized from two cars to one. We have also become avid recyclers, sorting, separating, and salvaging scraps of paper and plastic in our small household for re-use. (The proverbial needle in a thousand haystacks, in my opinion.) Have we reduced the fires in Australia, or Brazil, or Borneo? Is it too late? Who will lead us?
What are you doing?
The next essay, If The God Shall Not Send Rain, by Thomas Meaney, expounds on climate refugees:
“One of the first signs that the effects of climate change are nearing those who do not yet feel its glow is the arrival of climate refugees. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre… estimates that, over the past decade, an average of 24 million people annually were displaced by climate-related or extreme weather events. Future generations will find it difficult to fathom that our cult of economic growth was able to deny for so long that humans live on a fragile planet with finite resources.”
“The classicist Kyle Harper [page 210] has recently argued how Rome fell, in part, because of its inability to repel or absorb “climate refugees on horseback.” For two decades in the mid-300s, the Huns of the Eurasian Steppe faced the most severe drought in more than two millennia.”
“The result was that the Roman Empire soon faced ferocious bands of mounted nomads supremely skilled with bow and arrow.”
“An internationally coordinated response to climate change involving binding law is beyond our present political capacities. The rosiest future might be a world where regimes begin to compete to see which can produce the best environmental outcomes for their citizens: a kind of climate-protection arms race. The worst would be the opposite: resource wars and the weaponization of climate refugees.” (p. 192-197)
Climate isn’t the only motivator for migration, but if people can’t survive in their homeland for whatever reason, they will soon find a new neighborhood in which to live.
Out Of Time, by Astra Taylor, does not mince words:
“Change is coming, either in the form of adaptation or annihilation; we can respond proactively or reactively to this discomfiting fact.”
“Faced with the deleterious effects of capitalism’s ecologically extractive embrace, a grow- ing number of activists correctly insist that the first step is to dramatically curtail fossil-fuel extraction and emissions and invest in renewable-energy technology, two central pillars of what is now called a Green New Deal.”
I thought I threw around big words. Ms. Taylor should talk to my “you guys’s” friends. I think she is angry. Who can blame her, but somehow I urge calmness and trust the patience of biblical Job will prevail. Yes, we are running out of time. I have yet to see shouting be a motivator.
“Within a few centuries we are returning to the atmosphere and oceans the concentrated organic carbon stored in sedimentary rocks over hundreds of millions of years.”
Good point there. Back to the basics. We will either suffocate or burn up.
“Desynchronization upsets delicate relationships between migration, reproduction, and survival with cascading consequences. Not all species use the same temporal cues. A growing number of birds now arrive late for spring, having timed their migration with the sun, while many plants are more attuned to changes in temperature. A warming climate can mean leaves shoot early, encouraging insects to emerge to feast, but by the time migrating birds arrive to eat the insects, they are already gone. Flowers may bloom before—or sometimes after—pollinating beetles, bees, or wasps appear, symbiotic partners out of step to the detriment of both.”
The final essay, In The Shadow Of Caesar, by Kyle Harper, notes how volcanic eruptions have obscured the skies for extended periods in ancient times, possibly contributing to crop failures and famines. Have a look.
Speaking of greenhouse emissions, and fires in Borneo and the Amazon, it just occurred to me that there is no mention of the massive energy burn at the Athabasca oil sands in Canada. I guess you can’t cover everything. Google and Wikipedia enlighten.
Put CLIMATE on your radar and in your forethoughts. NOW. It would be the greatest, saddest, joke, in the style of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , if the world were to spend billions of years evolving ‘up to’ humans, who then turn the entire planet into an uninhabitable orb for which not a trace of life will eventually remain.
Ms. Taylor notes in her essay: “as the economist John Maynard Keynes bluntly put it, “In the long run we are all dead.”” (p. 199) That is not an excuse for sloppy planet management.
PostScript: I almost forgot. MEMORY is next. ” The introductory essay to the Quarterly’s Winter issue, Memory, speaks to the value of historical consciousness in a democratic society. It can be read as an expression of the publication’s ongoing purpose.”
The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.