I’m lucky to be alive. For one thing, I began smoking cigarettes at the age of nine. By the age of 12, I was smoking at least half a pack a day and, by the time I left home at the age of 15, I had a 40-50 a day habit. By the time I was 16 going on 17, I’d smoke another pack if I spent an evening in a tavern. I eventually stopped after 28 years of smoking, by then a heavy smoker of both cigarettes and pipe tobacco. Until that point, through parental tirades, sore throats, and occasions where I had to choose between buying a pack of cigarettes and eating something, I’d never once quit.
How did I accomplish this to-me nearly miraculous feat? By hard dint of two home-grown devices. Deep breathing or rigorous exercise helped stave off the monkey every time it really started to claw at my back. More importantly, I owe my continued existence to a mental exercise: I imagined a future version of myself standing there in a doctor’s office absorbing the news I was dying of emphysema (or cancer or heart disease), and being told there was no cure.
If only I’d stopped smoking years before. I imagined my sheepishness — shame, really — at having known for so long, at least on an intellectual level, that I was killing myself, yet never deviating from that course of action. And now it was too late. I could quit all I liked, and I was still going to die soon and unpleasantly. What really got me was a vivid sense of the futility of wanting things to be otherwise, to be somehow empowered to go back in time to a point where I could decide to quit before it was too late.
Then I realised that, in this imaginative communication with my future self, that self’s devout wish might in fact be granted, and this moment was my chance to change the course of events.
Our global fix
Anthropogenic climate-change deniers behave in much the way I did, all those years I kept smoking despite the fact I was pretty sure this would eventually kill me. (Yeah, but that would be then, eh? At some time, who knew when, probably way down the road. What does that signify when you want a cigarette right now?)
And now Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway have given us The Collapse of Western Civilization. The authors introduce their book in this way:
“Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past. Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present. In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future historian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future.”
In short, the protagonists of what its authors describe as a science-fiction book are looking back at our time from a future where the planet has been devastated in much the way the scientific community long promised us it would be, and they’re wondering at the wilful stupidity, compounded with short-sighted cupidity, that led us — especially those among us who were supposedly responsible policymakers — to let this catastrophe happen. Never mind policymakers and the general public alike were in full possession of the facts of the matter and had been warned again and again by the scientific community as a whole.
Just 104 pages long, the book economically and, given the authors’ backgrounds, authoritatively offers us a collective perspective on our behavior much like the POV that led me to quit tobacco.
Some say it’s too late for our planet. Maybe so. But I’d smoked heavily enough long enough that I feared I’d stopped too late. As it turns out, however, the human body is remarkably resilient, and so far it appears I may not have to pay the Piper after all. Let’s hope that homo sapiens and our planetary habitat will prove similarly blessed.
Perhaps it’ll help if enough people read Collapse.
The cartoon is from http://www.quitsmokingtoday7.com/blog/how-to-quit-smoking-according-to-doctors.