Napoleon Clymamite

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I'm still forcing myself to write and think critically about all the non-fiction books I read.

I considered expanding this to all the media I consume, but I don't think a series of essays about my feelings during the NBA playoffs would have revealed anything insightful.

At some point in the past I read an overview of The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells and the description motivated me to add it to my "Want to Read" list. Another while later I was browsing the library site in preparation for lockdown and checked it out. A short while after that I started reading it without much recollection of what had led me to this point.

As a non-reproducing, perpetual tourist of a human my initial thoughts were that I didn't want to write about reading The Uninhabitable Earth.

The onslaught of catastrophe, doom and predictions of death and destruction which immediately begin this book hit me with none of my defences up. Wallace-Wells is measured yet relentless in his summarising of the linear and potentially exponential systematic failures and disasters that the near future holds for the planet due to climate change and potential feedback loops impacting our ecological systems. He lists numbers of potential deaths like he's rattling off victim counts at the battle of Borodino.

The first half was scary, but the second is more terrifying. After his overview of the effects we transition into the causes and the ways in which humanity could take steps to counteract the problems we have collectively set upon ourselves. Unfortunately the answers are not black and white simplifications like reducing plastic straws and increasing renewable energy and eating less beef. The nature and structure of humanity itself needs to be overhauled. He makes a strong argument that the economic philosophies, nation states, neoliberalism, and cognitive biases that affect us all will never allow us as a species to overcome what we have created by converting fossil fuels into economic growth.

After what we have seen with COVID19 so far I'm inclined to agree with him.

I've always subscribed to the hope that technology will be the way humanity will overcome the challenges of climate change. Given the above, combined with the warning in this book from studies on the impact to intelligence - from air pollution, to higher temperatures, and what we know about the impact of diseases on our brains - predicts a future where we may further lose the ability to think our way to safety. How will we invent new technology when heat and carbon in the air makes us dumber?

Ironically, the root cause of the problem - the climate - will be easier to manage than humans.

David Wallace-Wells is definitely smarter than I am. Whether he is also more pessimistic than I am will be the real test.

While he may be an expert in most things climate and sociopolitical, I'm not sure if is as well read on history as I am.

When Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France in 1804 there were only a billion people living on Earth. Now there's eight times that many. In 1813 when Napoleon's Grande Armée was freezing in retreat from Russia there were 150 glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park. Today there are just 25.

Having listened to a 36 hour audiobook about the life of Napoleon, I believe that Bonaparte seems like the right person for the job of solving climate change. His experience of introducing rational reforms in direct challenge to existing institutes (such as universal civil laws, the central banking system, and the metric systems) as the unchallenged head of state for a widely encompassing empire has to be seen as admirable. Although he would probably put one of his less intelligent brothers in charge of pandemics, or get distracted by an opera singer, which may reduce his effectiveness.

Instead of focusing on technology for carbon capture and green energy we should be finding a solution for cloning Napoleon. He was a mathematician, and pragmatist, and he brought scientists with him to the battlefields of Egypt. I believe he would instantly recognise climate change for the threat it is, and do his thing working long hours, writing many letters, and going to war with those who opposed his carbon tax. It wouldn't be a utopia. I'm sure he would make mistakes. Yes this means living under a global dictator. But there are many worse politicians and autocrats in power at the moment.

I'd like to live to see that.


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