Art, apocalypse and the future

IN PERSPECTIVE


When in 1982 Ridley Scott filmed his prophetic and futuristic ‘Blade Runner’ and showed the city of Los Angeles devastated by acid rain, sealed off, and darkened by a ceiling of clouds of a dense gas, that future (November 2019, in the film) seemed so remote and so poetic that few would have ever imagined it could come true.

Now, 10 years from that date, the world has deteriorated to the point that the images from ‘Blade Runner’ amaze us less and frighten us more because we know how close we are to living on a planet similar to the one shown in the film.

For years the field of science fiction has sought to show the future, near or distant, as a catastrophic phase that man has cast into either by interventions from afar (aliens or meteorites) or by a nuclear event or the gradual and boundless degradation of the environment that humans brought about without even being aware of it.

Since the origins of literature and science, catastrophes that would cause the disappearance of civilisations and even of the world have been an obsession of man. The most famous book in western culture, the Bible, ends with the revelation of an apocalypse written by Saint John in which he predicts a devastating battle initiated by celestial powers and destined to bring about the disappearance of a perverted and doomed humanity to make way for another.

Wait and watch

Another culture, the Mayans of Central America, prophesied on the basis of their astrological research an end of time, though not as a result of a divine punishment but as a result of a devastating cosmic event that would kill the sun. Moreover, this event has a date, which is around the corner: Dec 22, 2012.

But contemporary art has stressed with despairing insistence the importance of human attitudes and decisions in causing the catastrophes that await us. If for the ancient prophets and apostles ethical behaviour weighed most heavily in the search for the causes of punishment, people today (without dismissing this indisputable factor, because ultimately this is a matter of ethics) also have science as a source for verification: the world is hurtling towards catastrophe, and modern man, who for 200 years has polluted, desertified, and poisoned the planet and separated atoms to convert energy into weapons, is the only possible party responsible for what is happening.
I once read that Confucius warned than man is most stubbornly obtuse when he knows the solution to his problems but doesn’t implement it. Today human stupidity seems to have reached heights the Chinese sage could never have imagined.
Almost 20 years have passed since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero first raised the alarm: we must change or die. Twelve years have passed since the half-hearted Kyoto protocols were presented to the international community, and the richest and most powerful countries have failed to take the draconian steps that nature requires. The problem is well known, and so is the solution; the stupidity and laziness that keep it from being adopted is beyond measure.

Risks to the earth

Of course, for governments and scientific institutions and informed citizens, these years have created an awareness of the risks to the earth and its dominant species. Moreover, each day brings to light more incontrovertible evidence of the effects of global warning which have become part of our degraded reality: stronger hurricanes, the melting of the ice caps, islands swallowed up by the sea, the extinction of hundreds of animal and plant species and the mutation of many, many others, etc.

Is enough being done to stop the deterioration of the environment? Is the appetite for wealth stronger than the warnings of approaching disaster, with or without the prophesies of the Maya or the Bible? What is the limit of this stupidity which keeps our species from acting to halt its own self-destruction?

The world conference on global warming and its effects, set for December of this year in Copenhagen, will take place at what can only be called a point of no return. The answer to whether or not the ancient and modern predictions will come true lies in the concrete actions that governments take after the conference in both rich countries and the developing world, where hunger and poverty are growing exponentially, partly as a result of environmental degradation.

If we do not change, ‘Blade Runner’ may well have a final projection on the screen provided by the dense cloud cover that will suffocate our condemned planet.

IPS

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