In the five plus years I’ve been talking about the Perfect Storm concept, I’ve often told a story I call The Train to Hell story. It’s a simile, but I find it’s useful when people tell me that things are going to be alright because everyday more and more people are becoming concerned about the environment. It explains clearly how things can be getting better – and why that’s just not enough. As you read this, think of it as a dream story – something someone might relate to you just after they’ve woken up.
So imagine we’re on a train and we’re rolling across the flat countryside at high speed in a straight line. Ahead, the tracks lead right to the edge of a very deep cliff and then they just end. If the train doesn’t stop before we arrive at the cliff, we’re all going over the edge together and it is going to be very bad indeed.
The train has one of those cords you pull to signal that the train should make an emergency stop. This cord works a bit differently, however. With this cord, how well it works depends on how many people are pulling on it.
Now, some folks have leaned way out the windows or maybe even climbed atop the train and they’ve seen the cliff coming and they can also see what’s going to happen if we don’t stop. Now they’re down in the cabin pulling on the cord and talking to everyone around them trying to convince them that there’s a big problem up ahead and they too should start pulling the cord. Some folks, a few, believe them and help with the cord. A few more lean way out the window and see that they are right and they begin to lend a hand as well.
But most folks listen for a moment, glance out the windows casually and don’t see anything so they go on about their business. After all, train rides are fun.
Now, I’m on the train and I’m helping with the cord but I’m worried that not many people are. I tell my friend who is also pulling the cord about my concern and he says, “Hey, don’t worry. Look, more and more people all the time are joining us and helping with the cord.”
Unfortunately, I’ve done a calculation. Even with more new people adding their efforts all the time and even with the train’s increasing rate of slowing, I can see it’s just not going to be enough to stop us before we go over the edge. The new folks are adding in too slowly and the rate we are approaching the cliff’s edge is much too fast.
I tell my friend we may not have time to try to convince people to help by reason or example. But he says it is critically important that everyone makes the decision to help on their own. We cannot interfere in another person’s decisions and in the exercise of their free will.
I look out the window and I’m thinking, “What will the nicety of respecting their free will gain either them or us if we all go over the edge together?”
At some point, a problem can become so critical that it must begin to percolate up through the levels of one’s priorities until it reaches a level where decisions can be made that can effectively deal with the problem. If we are not willing to rearrange our priorities in favor of survival and defer, instead, to the considerations of lesser levels and priorities, then we are quite likely not to survive.
So where’s the limit? Should we avoid taking action because we might get our clothes dirty and they are expensive? Should we avoid taking action because we might have to speak loudly and forcefully and that’s unseemly? Should we not act to save all of us because we might have to force some of us to help against their will?
There’s a similar riddle which concerns a rowboat with a few too many people in it out on the open sea. It bears thinking through.
These are not easy questions but, unfortunately, we’ve put ourselves into the position of having to answer them.
Some of us believe we can see the magnitude of the problems facing mankind and the entire biosphere at this point in history. But, most folks don’t believe there’s a problem at all. And many others acknowledge that there is but they are talking politely about it and trying to get more folks on board to deal with it by reason and example.
But the scientists are telling us clearly that we are very near the point where if we don’t act decisively, the Earth’s weather system’s are going to move into configurations we’ve never seen before and the results will be a very large disruption to civilization, the death of millions and millions of people and a massive die-off of species the likes of which hasn’t happened here since the comet smashed into the Yucatan 66 million years ago.
Meanwhile, the majority of the people in the most powerful nation on Earth don’t believe in the relevance of science or the reality of evolution. Some of the most powerful constructs mankind has ever conceived and unleashed, entities called corporations, which have power which exceeds many small and medium nation states, press on with their monomaniacal pursuit of money and power – as if there will be a place to spend the money and a place to wield the power in the future. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s populations do not care for anything more distant or abstract than the probability that they will receive their next paycheck and be able to put food on the table.
Do you see the problem, Lambchop? It’s likely we’re going to be toast.