Quote of the Day: Ian McEwan on The Hot Breath of Our Civilization

Image credit: Belinda Lawley

The Big Cheese behind TreeHugger, Graham Hill, hit the Arctic as part of Cape Farewell's 2008 Disko Bay expedition to witness the direct environmental effects of climate change. In a science research boat, he traveled alongside over 40 artists, scientists and rock stars.

Ian McEwan, talented author of Atonement, On Chesil Beach and many more, was on the 2005 Cape Farewell expedition. The idea behind Cape Farewell is to inspire cultural change by inspiring artists to incorporate climate change in their work. The word on the street is that Ian's next book will incorporate climate change as a theme and is therefore a great example of the ongoing success of the project. (Well done David and team!) Here is a profound excerpt from McEwan's, An Essay for our Time:

The pressure of our numbers, the abundance of our inventions, the blind forces of our desires and needs are generating a heat – the hot breath of our civilisation. How can we begin to restrain ourselves? We resemble successful lichen, a ravaging bloom of algae, a mould enveloping a fruit.

We are fouling our nest, and we know we must act decisively, against our immediate inclinations. But can we agree among ourselves?

We are a clever but quarrelsome species – in our public debates we can sound like a rookery in full throat. We are superstitious, hierarchical and self-interested, just when the moment requires us to be rational, even-handed and altruistic.

We are shaped by our history and biology to frame our plans within the short term, within the scale of a single lifetime. Now we are asked to address the well-being of unborn individuals we will never meet and who, contrary to the usual terms of human interaction, will not be
returning the favour.

Pessimism is intellectually delicious, even thrilling, but the matter before us is too serious for mere self-pleasuring. On our side we have our rationality, which finds its highest expression and formalisation in good science. And we have a talent for working together – when it suits us.

Are we at the beginning of an unprecedented era of international co-operation, or are we living in an Edwardian summer of reckless denial? Is this the beginning, or the beginning of the end?



Ian McEwan, 2005


More musings on climate change can also be found in Cape Farewell's first major book title, Burning Ice.

Read more about Graham's journey to the Arctic:
Cape Farewell: A New Expedition Sets Sail
Carbon Offsets for Your Private Jet Flying Pal?
Whale Oil as Space Lubricant: Better than Anything We Can Create?
The Masterful Beatboxing Shlomo: Music Without Instruments

Tags: Arctic | Artists | Global Climate Change | Graham Hill

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