How many times will we rebuild Florida’s cities, Houston, coastal New Jersey, New Orleans and other population centers ravaged by storms lethally intensified by global warming? At what point, surveying the devastation and knowing more is inevitable, will we walk away, leaving behind vast coastal dead zones? Will we retreat even further into magical thinking to cope with the fury we have unleashed from the natural world? Or will we respond rationally and radically alter our relationship to this earth that gives us life?
Civilizations over the past 6,000 years have unfailingly squandered their futures through acts of colossal stupidity and hubris. We are probably not an exception. The physical ruins of these empires, including the Mesopotamian, Roman, Mayan and Indus, litter the earth. They elevated, during acute distress, inept and corrupt leaders who channeled anger, fear and dwindling resources into self-defeating wars and vast building projects. The ruling oligarchs, driven by greed and hedonism, retreated into privileged compounds—the Forbidden City, Versailles—and hoarded wealth as their populations endured mounting misery and poverty. The worse it got, the more the people lied to themselves and the more they wanted to be lied to. Reality was too painful to confront. They retreated into what anthropologists call “crisis cults,” which promised the return of the lost world through magical beliefs.