In praise of scary books.


Listen to me read, or read on yourself…

There is a book that should be taught in every classroom, that you won’t find in any public library here bar one.

I bought a copy of this book, but have been too afraid to read it.

That’s not true. I could read it right now. No, really, I could!

And yet, it’s there, still unread, just out-of-reach, sitting stoicly amongst the research library I’ve assembled, dedicated to the task of understanding the Anthropocene: the fate of the world and our place in it.

It took an old-fashioned internet deep dive just to learn this book exists. I had an intuition that it must. Surely, surely!, someone had written about this. And exactly one person seems to have. And so far, no one’s listening to them.

Some day I would like to walk into that one library that has it on its shelves and see if it was ever checked out. And if so, by whom? That one library that has it? It’s inside the Australian Parliament.

It would probably help if I did read it. And I will. I really will… Just not right now, okay.

I’m not ready.

It’s not that I’m easily frightened. Hey, I’ve been watching horror movies since my mid-30s! The fact that this might be the scariest book ever written doesn’t faze me.

It’s not that it’s an academic textbook full of scientific nomenclature and pages of graphs. Because it is and I’m fine with that. There are denser, more rigorously footnoted, annotated works standing beside it that I’ve already tackled, whose core arguments I’ve condensed down to net-speak and pop culture references.

It’s not that it’s the most expensive text I’ve ever purchased…

It’s that what the book portrays is the fate of the planet after we’ve done nothing to fix it.

Earth, a fouled nest.

A planetary mess.

7221 we are the asteroid - road warning sign
We are the Asteroid by Justin Brice Guariglia, at Storm King in New York. Photograph: Jerry L Thompson  [via]
Broken in ways we still don’t understand even as we bear witness to its undoing from the safety of our homes or cars. Livestreamed to our smartphones; those black mirrors that bring us together as everything falls apart.


Skip past the arguments about whether climate change is actually happening. Fast-fwd through that noise. Blip blip blip. Cut through the carefully constructed distractions. Close the pop-ups! Don’t feel guilty that you’re using an ad-blocker when reading the latest dire warning from climate scientists. At least you’re reading it…

But try to find out what happens next. After we’ve pretty much ignored what’s happening now.

Because that’s the part they always leave out.

It’s a future so bleak you won’t find it documented in almost every postapoc book, comic and movie so far made. The Road? More like Roadtrip, amirite? At least, it is compared to what awaits a world left to rot and ruin by a blissfully, willingly ignorant humanity.

As I said, I’m fine with horror. I’ve had no problem digesting every flavour and variety of doom porn the entertainment industrial complex has served us, feebly motioning at a planet destroyed by hubris, where humanity clings to life… even if they’ve had to retreat to space.

But we’re always still there. Hanging on. And that’s a problem.

I can’t read this book for the same reason most people would rather fold themselves down into their phones as they shuffle through their daily grind than unflinchingly gaze into the future… the future that is the product of those phones, that house, the car.

The great western dream of a life well-lived is making the world increasingly uninhabitable.

And not just for us.

Not just for humans but almost all life as we know it.

In order to learn of this book’s existence I had to overcome my own limited understanding; that what’s happening is more than a Mass Extinction Event, more than a climate undergoing ‘change.’ That the biosphere is just one part of the planetary system and we’ve broken the whole damn thing.

I had to discover the relatively new discipline of Earth Systems Science and acquire an appreciation of the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated things like geology and life. An interconnectedness whose increasing understanding is driven by its unravelling.

We broke the world.

If only we could put it back together again…

Humpty Dumpty was right!!!

We can’t unwind two centuries of European colonisation of this country, for instance.

Even if we could undo the damage done, there’s no going back to what was.

And what even is that anyway?

There is no restore point. It’s game over, man!

This book that scares me so? It documents the last level of humanity.

Its final cut scene runs for twenty thousand years and shows what its author calls “the posthuman republic of insects and grasses.”

That’s who shall inherit the Earth!

Our great legacy is a planet gone full radioactive wasteland… and seas. Where the broken part of the world system we call climate change means rising oceans sweeping the worst waste products of the military industrial complex into the oceans and obliterating the food web.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Honestly though, despite my aforementioned trepidation… this isn’t the thing that scares me the most.

Because there’s one thing that scares me more. It’s what humanity will do to the planet to preserve its way of life. As if enough wasn’t enough already?

What’s worse than a twenty thousand year life sentence for almost every living thing on Earth bigger than a breadbasket is a humanity become desperate to avoid a fate literally of its own making. To misguidedly face an existential threat that is itself. That permanently breaks the world just to keep things going long enough to get the next model iPhone. All the while distracted by black mirrors that could be showing us the end-of-the-world in real time, instead of the breakdown of western civilisation.

DcWcf8IX4AASaO1“Old people, afraid of the sky” is how Bruce Sterling frequently describes the future… and that future is now, based on how few are willing to look up from their smartphones.

If only we lived in another, better civilisation.

If only we could portal over there and see what books are in their libraries.

This book on the Plutocene – the author’s neologism for his dark vision of the Post-Anthropocene – they’d teach it in classrooms there… But only if they’d portal’d over and visited us first.

Our great legacy is as a cautionary tale.

“Come see the results of the Great Filter at work,” read the pop-up ads for Earth on the alien equivalent of smartphones.

Or we could work towards building that new, better, brighter, green, solarpunkt af civilisation ourselves.

I think it’s time I overcame the fear and read that book.IMG_20171213_150701_291

Someone has to face that dark scenario, and since I’m spending all my time dreaming of a… well, that’s what I signed up for.

Here goes.

The Plutocene: Blueprints for a Post-Anthropocene Greenhouse Earth [Springer].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.