Back in my country of birth, the climate change secretary is making eschatalogical predictions again. Chris Huhne, the incumbent, is warning that the United Kingdom may soon be invaded for the first time since 1066. Why? Because of climate change, of course:
Climate change will lead to an increased threat of wars, violence and military action against the UK, and risks reversing the progress of civilisation, the energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne will say on Thursday, in his strongest warning yet that the lack of progress on greenhouse gas emission cuts would damage the UK’s national interests.
“Climate change is a threat multiplier. It will make unstable states more unstable, poor nations poorer, inequality more pronounced, and conflict more likely,” Huhne is expected to say in a speech to defence experts. “And the areas of most geopolitical risk are also most at risk of climate change.”
He will warn that climate change risks reversing the progress made in prosperity and democracy since the industrial revolution, arguing that the results of global warming could lead to a return to a “Hobbesian” world in which life is “nasty, brutish and short”.
Huhne believes the UK and other countries must act urgently to prepare for the threat. “We cannot be 100% sure that our enemies will attack our country, but we do not hesitate to prepare for the eventuality,” he plans to say. “The same principle applies to climate change, which a report published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has identified as one of the four critical issues that will affect everyone on the planet over the next 30 years.”
Whether the final speech will include a warning that climate change will invite alien attack, or act as an overture for a plague of locusts, remains to be seen.
It is always mystifying that these predictions are received as if they were new. In fact, predictions of impending Malthusian catastrophe are hardy perennials: In the late eighteenth century (and again in the 1970s), the world’s population was set to outstrip the food supply, thus ‘reversing the progress made in prosperity’ since the agricultural revolution, and we were all going to die; from 1855 to the present day, we have perpetually been just years away from running out of oil, and we were all going to die; and, despite recent warnings from the Guardian that we are heading toward terminal decline, we have somehow managed to avoid descending into World War III over potable water.
I have long been fascinated with Paleofuturism, which can be best summed up as the “future that never was.” Browse through some of the articles and literature on this website, and you’ll notice something intriguing: Visions of the future tend to posit a particular technological advance in isolation, while preserving other anachronisms entirely in tact. Thus, we have the amusing sight of postmen delivering the mail by jetpack, but wearing 1950s attire while doing so; and of French society types using third century flying machines to go to the opera in their tuxedos. (Nowhere was this more amusingly apparent than in the third of the new Star Wars movies, in which Luke Skywalker’s mother was ostensibly unaware that she was carrying twins — despite being in an electronic hospital bed on a floating, noiseless, light-speed spaceship. Clearly, whatever the Republic’s government spent its research money on, it was not obstetrics). From this standpoint, and without knowing that Henry Ford would revolutionize the way we got around, it would have been reasonable, circa 1880, to assume that by the year 2000, there would be 6 billion horses running around.
Hopefully the only thing that will be ‘nasty, brutish, and short’ is the period of time during which Mr. Huhne’s speech is taken seriously.