Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WWII as a preview of the Sixth Extinction

The most frequent contribution most of us (scientist or laity) make to the public debate about the Climate is to discuss our beliefs about changes that may  (or may not) happen sometime in the future , when human hubris collides with natural reality.

Unfortunately , that leaves more than enough "ifs and maybes" for many other citizens to permanently tune out on this all important public debate.

By contrast, The Mills of Nature discusses what actually did happen in the recent past , when pure human hubris really did get seriously stuck axle deep in the dirt of natural reality.

To protect the guilty and the inept , WWII history has normally been told back to front : 'the Allies won the war in 1945 --- and here is how it all happened'.

It becomes distilled down a human drama between six extremely ham-ish actors, all judged more than capable of eating the scenery.

Cue the headline : "Scenery Eating Actors"

Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, FDR and Tojo were still better known for extraordinarily skills in speech-making and morale-raising than for any administrative prowess they might have had. 

But the current historical consensus about WWII argues they were just the kind of leadership needed to fight this sort of war.

So we end with this intimate human drama , a clash between the six men fronting the six biggest civilizations, played out for us above the footlights .

Meanwhile, far back at the ranch , Mother Nature is nothing but an uninteresting and inert painted backdrop.

However, there is another way to tell the story of WWII.

It proceeds more conventionally, from front to back, detailing what Allies, Axis and Neutrals actually thought would happen, day by day, and then contrasting that with what actually did happen.

As a result, it ends up telling a far more downbeat story.

Now we can clearly see human ambitions, on all sides, stymied time and time and time again by natural forces.

 And  by humans that each side regarded as less than fully civilized and thus less than fully human - people in some sense also seen by most as 'just another part of the natural world.'

Nature (and 'these people of the natural world') turned out to be very far from inert --- for six long years it resists Civilized Man's vaulting ambitions at every turn.

So for but one example , over and over again a bad - natural - harvest of the lowly potato in Germany led to the human decision to see that more Slavs and Jews further East were starved or shot to death.

Even now, few us really believe it was Generalissimo Stalin , rather than General Frost and General Mud, who really saved Russia in 1941.

So once again cue the headline : "Scenery Eating Actors".

But this time , read it with the accent on scenery and not on actors .

I hope you find this Green history of WWII  a humbling and healing affair.

Yes it does cut us down to size before the vastness of an ever turbulent Mother Nature .

But hopefully it will also help us give the lesson on the dangers of Climate Change, before we get to the final exam....

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