Groundless pessimism about the future can be lethal.
Climate change can kill. Not just furnace-like summer heat with its killer bushfires, not killer floods sweeping away livestock, houses and motorists, not killer cyclones lifting roofs, toppling trees, and smashing power lines. But also felo de se, self-slaughter, shuffling off this mortal coil.
Remember 104-year-old David Goodall, the Australian academic who travelled to Switzerland for assisted suicide earlier this month?
His minder for the trip to Switzerland, Dr Philip Nitschke, the Australian euthanasia activist, has revealed why Dr Goodall decided to travel half-way around the world to seek death amongst strangers rather than die at home.
It was climate change. Fear of climate change was responsible for David Goodall’s unnecessary death.
A press release from Dr Nitschke’s organisation, Exit International, quotes the aged but still lucid expert ecologist.
“There are just too many of us, consuming too much, changing too many ecosystems too fast,” he reportedly said. A burgeoning population is outpacing resources. Global warming is caused by unmanaged growth. Catastrophe is looming. Paul Ehrlich got it right in 1968 in his terrifying book, The Population Bomb.
“It is too late to revert back to the relatively calm and evenly balanced systems we had enjoyed up to the 1950s,” Goodall said in his last moments. “All we can do now is to adapt to the resulting changes and the damages we caused.”
Goodall expressed deep pessimism about negotiated agreements on climate change. Changes are “spiralling out of control”, he said. If this happens, life on Planet Earth could become apocalyptic. “That would decimate the populations greatly and might make the planet a very hostile place.”
“When I asked if he felt he was ‘getting out, just in time!’, he quickly agreed,” Nitschke recalled.
So what was Goodall’s solution for climate change? “Allowing end of life choice for the elderly, not just the terminally ill.”
So he drank the Kool-Aid. Nitschke calls it “rational suicide”, but it was anything but rational.
A unique case? No. In April a prominent American gay rights lawyer, 60-year-old David Buckel, doused himself in “fossil fuel” and immolated himself in a Brooklyn park as a protest against climate change.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckel wrote in a suicide note. “Our present grows more desperate, our future needs more than what we’ve been doing.”
A related kind of suicide takes place in bedrooms when couples decide not to bring children into a world of ecological horror. An American group called Conceivable Futures is highlighting their fears. “I don’t want to give birth to a kid wondering if it’s going to live in some kind of ‘Mad Max’ dystopia,” one woman told the New York Times. “Animals are disappearing. The oceans are full of plastic. The human population is so numerous, the planet may not be able to support it indefinitely,” said another. “This doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for people bringing home a brand-new baby from the hospital.”
American philosopher Travis Rieder wants governments to penalise people for having children. “But children, in a kind of cold way of looking at it, are an externality,” he says. “We as parents, we as family members, we get the good. And the world, the community, pays the cost.”
But these fears are little short of insane. The Population Bomb was a bomb; nearly all of its predictions have been proved wrong. Even if climate change is real, there’s no reason to commit suicide or refuse to procreate. Human ingenuity will muddle through. In any case, the world is having no trouble feeding itself. Since 1990 world hunger has declined by 40 percent, child mortality has halved, and extreme poverty has fallen by three quarters.
Doomsday is not around the corner; doomsday is in the heads of those who have swigged the climate-change Kool-Aid.
In fact, an irrational fear of apocalyptic climate change is starting to sound more and more like fears of the original Kool-Aid drinkers, the 909 victims of the Jonestown mass suicide 40 years ago, on November 18, 1978. “Death is a million times preferable to 10 more days of this life,” the mad socialist Jim Jones told his cult followers. “If you knew what was ahead of you—if you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over tonight.”
This sounds uncomfortably like the rhetoric of some climate-change champions. And as the tragic suicide of David Goodall shows, fear-mongering fantasies can kill.