Bradley Jarvis's Reviews > Going Dark

Going Dark by Guy R. McPherson
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it was amazing
Recommended for: Everyone

NOTE: This review contains spoilers.

Guy McPherson and I are the same age, with very different experiences, yet we are converging on a similar set of conclusions about what the future holds for us and everyone else. I finished reading his book "Going Dark" two days after completing the latest update of my ongoing project to gain insight into how humanity's future is likely to evolve; both reach depressing conclusions about our prospects.

"Going Dark" is a group of essays mostly extracted from McPherson's online blog "Nature Bats Last," which discusses from a deeply personal perspective why he believes our species and most others are headed for extinction within just a few years and how we might cope with that fact. As a successful conservation biologist, McPherson knew how humans have been causing other species to go extinct at an alarming rate; but as he learned more about human-induced climate change, it became clear to him that we were passing various tipping points that were making recovery, and our own survival, practically impossible.

McPherson blames industrial civilization for our fate, having reached the conclusion that it is inherently incompatible with a healthy planet. In his view, the most successful agent of that civilization, the United States, is especially to blame for what is happening now, going out of its way to make things even worse. His last hope for even a marginal delay in our fate was dashed when the economic disaster of 2008 didn't result in a total crash of the world economy, especially its use of fossil fuels. Now, he has no hope (what he calls "hopium"), because too many tipping points have been crossed, and because the inevitable decline of civilization is almost certain to unleash even worse consequences. Those consequences include the release of lethal radiation from incompletely shut down nuclear power plants, and reduction of air pollution that has helped delay the onset of the worst of climate change.

He now plays the role of a doctor comforting dying patients, which include himself, and enlightening those patients who don't yet know their time left is extremely limited. Overwhelmed with despair, he's not yet willing to totally give up on life, instead trying to make the two remaining decades as good as possible.

I'm inclined to take McPherson very seriously, in large part because of his credentials and other things I've read, and because his prediction of "near-term extinction" represents a realistic consequence of one of the three scenarios I've considered in my own recent research. In that "best case," we are not immediately overwhelmed by own depletion of ecological resources (read "other species") and act as though we will have a lot of additional resources to fuel our hunger for total life satisfaction. The scenario is "best" because it is premised on us finding those new resources very soon; but if we don't (and we probably won't), then the timeline for extinction of other species, to include us, is close to the one McPherson is expecting. If self-sustained climate change is indeed already in progress, then we are probably committed to this path in terms of our ecological impact (not our population growth), no matter what else we try to do.

Whether or not McPherson is correct in his expectations will be decided by experience. Even more important to me is whether we should, as he recommends, accept their inevitability ahead of that and treat the living part of Earth (including ourselves) as if it is in hospice. I've wavered on this question, losing hope and recovering it several times over the past few months. Reading this book has made that indecision more uncomfortable, even urgently so. Which is, I think, McPherson's intent.

I'm a big fan of thought-provoking discussion about important issues, and there is no more important issue than survival. "Going Dark" is an excellent contribution to this discussion, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
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Reading Progress

December 9, 2013 – Started Reading
January 19, 2014 – Finished Reading
January 20, 2014 – Shelved

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