Confronting Collapse Anxiety

According to Environment Canada, "the first heat event of the season is setting up for today and tonight for portions of Southwestern Ontario." Alas, even after a long, cruel winter, the first official heat alert always arrives as a mixed blessing. As Canadians do every May, we take our first glorious steps outdoors in our long-stored sandals and shorts—ever cognizant, like responsible citizens everywhere, of the ostensibly degraded state of our planet and our culpability in producing it.

Thanks to our obliging media, there are always new environmental crises coming online—in addition, that is, to the usual potpourri of hotter summers, water rationing, climate-induced suicidesghost foreststemperature tipping points, and soon-to-be-uninhabitable regions of the globe. In the New York Times, we read of an emergent "biocrisis" in Europe characterized by a decline in the total seasonal biomass of flying insects. "Are we in the midst of a global insect Armageddon that most of us have failed to notice?" wonders author Curt Stager. It's hard to say. The good news is that the perceived bug decline appears not to be the result of climate change or car windshields. The bad news is that whatever unknown killer "might be causing these insect deaths could be a threat to us too."

Elsewhere we read that U.K. puffins and white-furred animals are at risk of extinction. European families have been so devastated by climate change that they are suing the EU. A new study of the world's water supply portends "catastrophes that may be waiting for us in the not-so-far future." In this morning's Globe and Mail, Professor Tom Koch warns that humanity is not prepared for Disease X—a disease that does not exist but which, given the history of microbial plagues, will hit us sooner or later. "To prepare and to insure our health and survival, we can and must do better," Koch advises.

Does anyone really wonder why collapse anxiety—"the fear that civilization may implode and there's nothing anyone can do about it"—is now afflicting up to a quarter of young Australians, a third of Americans, and perhaps as many as 15% of citizens worldwide?

Here's a modest proposal. Let's change the rules governing eco-catastrophism.

Until now, the biggest names in the doomsday game have got a pass on their failed predictions, abetted as they have been for decades by sympathetic or merely gullible elements in the press. Preeminent in the we-missed-the-apocalypse-by-a-mile club is septuagenarian Paul Ehrlich, who continues to pontificate on the imminent collapse of human civilization more or less as he did when he was a budding young alarmist in the 1960s. In recent years, the mantle of extreme doom-mongering has passed to Guy McPherson, retired professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. Prof McPherson has been offering vague but chilling end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it prophesies for at least a decade, but over the last few months he has fine-tuned his crystal ball. Industrial civilization will collapse in the summer of 2019 at the latest, he asserts, as the direct result of melting Arctic sea ice and an ensuing global failure of food production (see the video clip above). Once civilization collapses, homo sapiens will go extinct in relatively short order. The process is already at an advanced stage and irreversible. There's nothing any of us can do to avert it, save for enjoying what little time we have left with our loved ones.

It is an intellectual curiosity of our age that despite the advent of rational optimists like Matt Ridley, Johan Norberg and Stephen Pinker, the prophets of doom continue to enjoy free rein to distort the promise of the human future out of all proportion. In the case of Professor McPherson at least, we have an opportunity to do what we should have done with his predecessors, starting with Professor Ehrlich. If we survive into the autumn of 2019 without the onset of McPherson's human-extinction scenario, let us simply agree that he is non grata. He may continue to fear-monger for as long as he likes, and presumably to postpone the end times indefinitely. But we will stop listening.