THE SMOKE OF BURNING PEAT BOGS and forests and the losses they caused detracted us for a while from the far from comforting picture of planetary dimensions. Here is the frightening statistics of the year 2010 when big and small catastrophes shook the world: erupting volcanoes grounded aircrafts all over Europe; earthquakes hit many countries; the record-hot summer caused drought in Russia while Europe was nearly inundated. This suggests a logical question: what next? Indeed, to be prepared we should know what is in store for us. The answer is simple: anything might happen.
I wrote about this in my article "Kto bezymen: my Hi Vezuviy? " (Who is Madder: Us or Vesuvius?) which appeared on 22 April 2010 on the RIA NOVOSTI). Today, "enlightened madness" is everywhere: we are convinced that we should "control the climate" while we should master self-control. This attitude is caused, among other things, by the "superiority complex," the product of human history. The desire to play-act against the background of multiplying catastrophes in line with the slogan "The global challenge of climate change offers the European Union a global role to play" looks strange indeed. We are up against something in which there are no roles to play: "Mineral water is no cure for terminally ill."
Mankind's starry-eyed idealism is another manifestation of its inadequacy. Many still hope that the best minds gathered together where air conditioning works best will resolve all "accursed problems." The human mind is powerless when confronted with the Universe yet this is only part of the problem. Each of us taken individually is a "citizen of the world" yet together...
Look at the Climate Summit which in December 2009 brought representatives of 115 countries to Copenhagen. The mountain brought forth a mouse: it was agreed that the temperature rise on the global scale should not exceed 2° C.
Not bad yet, but very much as before, realities have outstripped the "wisdom of the wise." How and to which extent will the calamities of 2010 affect the next climate forum to be held in Mexico? Those who lobby economic growth for the sake of economic growth will probably try, once more, to reduce its results to naught.
Walter Reid, a professor at Stanford University Institute for the Environment, has pointed out that "there's an unbreakable link between human well-being and the health of the planet," a result of many years of studies. During the last 50 years, living conditions have improved: people live longer, are better nourished and wealthier. Stephen Carpenter, an expert on ecosystem management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has added: "The number of buildings that will be built in the 21st century is on the order of the number of buildings built in the entirety of human history." Agricultural practices designed to increase production mainly with the help of chemicals are still "the most extensive modification of the earth's surface caused by humans" and "the largest user of fresh water." The authors of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are convinced that nature pays dearly for this progress while the gradual depletion of forests and fresh water will affect (have affected) the quality of life (of the poorest population groups in the first place) to a great extent. Today, economists should accept the truth of what has become abundantly clear: far from being an absolute evil, crises and recessions are beneficial for what we take for progress.
This is a vicious circle: mankind which is seeking greater economic wellbeing will be driven to a dead end; this will not be all: economic growth will become a force which will destroy economic wellbeing. Before reaching the prospering countries the process, which will begin in the periphery, will hit the most vulnerable and the poorest, yet this is only one of the scenarios. The "vengeful hand of the elements" might punish all and everyone at one stroke.
"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a fine world is either a madman or an economist," wrote British economist Kenneth E. Boulding. General de Gaulle was the only one in postwar history who deliberately excluded the "wellbeing" slogan from his social and political vocabulary (the poor, the destitute and the starving, however, should get their share of attention). He looked at "wellbeing" as a goal very much beneath the dignity of the French and a revival of the pagan symbol of faith: "God is their belly" (Phil, 3:19).
Europe and the world rejected the great Frenchman's healthy idealism. Heads of state and government and party leaders indulge themselves in holding forth about "wellbeing," "prosperity" and other notorious cliches; this is best confirmed by President Obama's latest speech at the UN GA. The attempt was made to remedy the obvious deficiency of this vulgar interpretation of progress with an ideological crutch of the "quality of life" concept to spare the feelings of the idealistically minded who could, from that time on, adjust their non-materialistic ideas about the meaning of life to a much wider interpretation of what is going on in the world.
One cannot help but be amazed that the destructive crises and natural disasters failed to convinced politicians and the powers that be in the first place, that the logic of mankind's development pushes the world into an abyss.
"For in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage... until the flood came and took them all away" (Matt., 24:38-39.)
At the height of the industrialization era, however, the best minds knew that the "philosophy of the economy" was rapidly moving toward its end. Expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922, Semyon Frank, outstanding Russian thinker, wrote some time later in Berlin: "The very fact that human life, both individual and collective, is reduced, to a great extent, to survival struggle, to the never-ending suicidal scuffle over the means of subsistence which dominates the animal world; the very fact that technical improvements notwithstanding, people's continuous multiplication creates deficiency of rich soil, coal, iron and everything else mankind needs very much and that the struggle for them is gaining momentum and becomes fiercer indicate that spontaneity of cosmic life fetters human life."
A short while later Berlin, a peaceful and superficially philistine city, became a symbol and the center of a bloody struggle for Lebensraum.
Today, "the cosmic fetters of human life" are even more obvious than ever before. The crisis of "society of prosperity" which pained the West and the financial and economic crisis which caused it confirm with abundant clarity that "welfare cannot be stretched to all and everyone." An average member of the "society of prosperity" has no inkling about a true source of his economic prosperity. Contrary to what is said, he owes his "comfortable life" not so much to wise politicians and economists as to the "uncomfortable life" of the vast masses of people all over the world. Indeed, the present "prosperity" crisis coincided with economic and population growth in the countries outside the "Western ecumene" and a much higher standard of living there.
It seems that we have reached the beginning of a new development cycle. Between 1950 and 2003, the share of Europe, United States and Canada in the world's gross product dropped from 68% to 47% (even though the Soviet Union and its economy had collapsed). Some 40 years later the rest of the world might come to the fore with nearly 80% of material production while European (including Russia), American and Canadian population will be growing old and shrinking at a fast pace. According to the World Bank, by 2030 the developing world will have a 1.2 billion-strong middle class of its own, an increase of 200% against 2005! It will need different, and better, diet and clothes and will follow in the footsteps of the West toward a "society of prosperity" which will claim an ever growing share of world resources.
The economic and consumer boom in the developing world looks very much like a parody of the "old fat tiger"; it will be no longer a potential but an actual challenge against not merely the Old and New Worlds but also against Earth's continued existence as a home of mankind. Here is a far from idle question: Will climate change, depleting resources and the mounting food shortages bring closer a "suicidal scuffle" of which Semyon Frank wrote on the eve of World War II?
What about reason and intellect? Yes, I grant you - there are so-called "green technologies," an absolutely innovational idea. Even the enthusiasts of "green economics," however, agree that the forecasted economic growth and its unavoidable repercussions will not solve the problems related to the world's ecology and climate. In other words, Skolkovo (Russia's projected analog of Silicon Valley) will never resolve the problems of Shatura (an area of peat bogs not far from Moscow): what we need is water but this is yet another problem.
We all know that energy production, heating of our homes and other buildings, transport, chemical industry and chemical fertilizers are the worst pollutants. Computer systems, the worldwide favorite, are another cause of green house effect. The Alex Wissner-Gross laboratory calculated that one retrieval request in Google produces, on average, about 7 grams C02. For obvious reasons Google disagrees with this yet cannot deny its negative impact on the environment.
The idea of innovations is correct at the intuitive level yet it has nothing to do with latest or any other technology. It is best described as reminiscences of a future which never came. Had people remained true to the commandment to till the soil rather than to torture and exhaust it (if mankind took the trouble to preserve land at all) the world would have been a different place filled with love of land and of neighbor who lives on it; there would have been technologies of which we merely fantasize today. Until the tragedies of October 1917 and collectivization, a large part of Russian peasants was still very much aware of the idea of love; they loved Mother Earth, Moist Mother Earth.
They say that ideas rule the world which means that the ideas about the world and about life, rather than technologies that suggest them should become an instrument of renovation. Those driven into an impasse and confronted with a crisis are capable of technologies of desperation rather than innovation even though the former might be mistaken for the latter. Where is genuinely innovational thinking capable of rescuing the world? How to escape from the trap set by Stanislaw Jerzy Lee: "A mouse was dreaming about the wings. So what will you say now, Mrs. Bat?"
The question is: Will innovational thinking capable of gradual and profound transformations rather than superficial changes appear sooner or later? Will the vicious circle of vain expectations that another turn of history will transform the quantity of mankind's intellectual and physical efforts into a new and much happier quality of life be broken? (I use the word "happier" to avoid a misunderstanding that "new quality of life" means more comfortable WC pans or faster aircrafts.)
Semyon Frank wrote in his time: "The world cannot change itself; it cannot get out of its skin, so to speak, or pull itself by its own hair, very much like Baron Munchausen, out of a bog. The bog is its own, which means that the world sinks into it for the simple reason that the bog is inside it." A feeling of desperation is probably responsible for the creatures very much superior to and much wiser than man, the aliens who populate all fantasy books. Encouraged by the authors' unmistakable sympathy for their creations one is tempted to say: "Come and rule us" or even to become one of them and to leave the ranks of mankind forever like in "Avatar."
Humanism placed man in the center of the Universe; the idea that the Sun, and not the Earth and all those who lived on it was the center of the Universe to which mankind belonged was rejected by the Renaissance and its humanistic ideas (and, by extension, by "Christianity" of the Renaissance) rather than by the Middle Ages. The triumph of the Galilean ideas never displaced man from his central place for the simple reason that an acceptance of man's "non-centric position" (Antiquity, modern paganism and occultism) has not led to spiritual awakening to the Sun of Righteousness (The Troparion of the Nativity of Christ) as the center of man's spiritual and creative world: "For without me you can do nothing" (John, 15:5).
Mankind paid dearly for its self-deification and centrism: the "Proud Saviors of the World" (S. Frank) brought nothing but iron, blood, Sturm und Drang, and more blood. This belongs to history - yet what can we say about the Earth and the whole creation which, according to Apostle Paul, "groans and suffers... until now" together with all of us. Strange as it may seem, the humanists never dwelled on the lofty idea that man (the king of nature and the ultimate aim of the visible world) could make the world weep and suffer, rejoice, flourish and be angry. Man learned from experience that his power over Nature is limited became tragically oblivious of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords even though "from the very beginning the God of people revealed Himself as the God of the Universe" (Prince S.N. Trubetskoy).
The rights created by the commandment to till the soil made man a temporal master of the temporal world since "nothing is eternal under the Moon." At the same time, Frank aptly noted: "It was not enough to create the world and man: God had to fill and permeate it with Himself." Created free, man could either accept or reject this; he could assume responsibility for the world around him; he could "use" it or love it yet he failed to grasp the fact that the world could also either love or reject him.
As a small boy I always imagined that an onyx figurine my Granny kept on her dresser - a pot-bellied creature, an enthroned man or a deity - had swallowed the Earth or even the Sun like a crocodile in my favorite fairy tale.
Man, likewise, has taken into his head that his place was on the Mountain of the Gods. He has elevated himself from an honest and creative tiller to the master and lord of Nature who instead of "awaiting favors" from it ruled: "To take them from it - this is our task." The Gospel according to Mark (Mark, 12:1-9) tells a story of vine-growers whom the owner had rented out a vine-yard. At the harvest time they killed, beat or treated shamefully all slaves the owner sent for some of the produce of the vine-yard; they killed even His Son. This parable tells a story of man's global attempt at usurping Supreme Power over Nature and the world and impose on them his own rules of exploitation and money-grubbing. The "crown of creation" has probably forgotten that freedom is not his exclusive right: God gave freedom to nature to a certain extent. "Nature is not what you think it is: it's not a mould, not a soulless face. It has a soul. It has freedom. It has love. It has a tongue" (Fedor Tyutchev).
The animal world cries out together with "the stone from the wall," "the morning stars sang together," "there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle" and the land will be "polluted with blood."... The Russian epic songs and the fairy tales speak to man with a living language of nature. The saints and the prophets of the Bible could rule the elements; our recent history, too, abounds in examples of amazing harmony and love which permeated the relations between virtuous men and animals, our brothers; St. Sergius, Hegumen of Radonezh and St. Seraphim of Sarov being the best known examples.
An insult makes man deaf and mute; he is dead to his offender. Insulted by what we do and by what is going on in our souls the nature became deaf and mute; it is dead for us but not for itself and God. After the initial shock and if unrestrained the insulted might flare up. The world around us seems to have reached the limit. If unrestrained it will flare up. Only the will of the Restrainer is protecting us...
Viktor Danilov-Danilyan, Director of the Water Problems Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, one of the prominent ecologists, offered the following comment: "During this exceptionally hot summer we all heard climatologists and meteorologists saying that in a week's time everything would be back to normal. In fact, their forecasts cannot look beyond the next week; reliable forecasts are limited to 5-7 days. Better forecasts will not appear any time soon; the situation is much worse than that: we are living amid global climatic changes. It was all man's doing: under pressure of anthropogenic factors the system lost its quasi-balance, the fact accepted by 95 percent of climatologists. This explains why old people can no longer rely on weather signs to forecast summers and winters. The old signs belonged to the quasi-stationary and quasi-balanced system of which mere shreds remained... The other day I heard an expert holding forth over the radio that a possibility of a similarly hot summer is one to five million. Don't trust these people - they talk rubbish."
Let's go back to the beginning and ask ourselves together with Semyon Frank: "When will the day when truth and reason triumph on Earth come; will we live to see the day when chaos and absurdity finally perish forever? ... There is only one sober, balanced and reasonable answer which destroys half-baked day-dreaming and romantic sentimentality of the question: 'Never in this world until it changes itself as we hope it will'." The Russian philosopher went further to answer the question: "What is to be done?" with "the question is not how the world can be saved - the question is how we should join the beginning which alone can save life."