Am I worried?

Over the past few weeks the Independent has published a number of scary stories. Perhaps, the most alarming was James Lovelock’s essay,”The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years:Each nation must find the best use of its resources to sustain civilisation for as long as they can”
But they also ran stories on the end of oil, the flu pandemic and others that have now got blurred in my mind.
I have written here in a similar vein myself:
“What we often forget is that our taken for granted world is an experiment that has been running for much less time than the Norse Colonies in Greenland. No doubt for much of the time the Norse thought things were going pretty well for them and ignored the signals that things might not be as they seem.
The Tsunami was a natural disaster, but its impact on human life and well-being was as much to do with the patterns of life we have adopted as it was to do with a wall of water hitting coastlines in Asia. It was also a reminder of how fragile human life can be and, perhaps, if we are wise, a signal to be less arrogant and to pay more attention to what is going on around us.”

So the question is am I worried? Well at one level I would be a damn fool if I didn’t. But, I am older enough, that with a bit of luck, I may be dead before the full impact of these impending disasters strikes. On the other hand I have a much loved a 19 year old son, who is chronologically right in the impact zone.
If I focus on public debate and the response of our politicians and other opinion leaders, of course I’m worried. We have known for about three decades that our carbon-based civilisation was built on rocky foundations and the glaciers seem to be melting faster than the political response to what seems to happening.
But two things keep me feeling fairly cheerful. The first is a remark made by a Conservative Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, who these days would come across as a wild eyed, lefty radical. He was asked what was the most important thing in politics (I am slightly distorting the context here, it was a bit more specific than that). His response was, “Events, dear boy, events.”
This is something I find myself saying with increasing frequency these days. Lovelock might be right, but a large volcanic eruption might make him wrong. The truth is no one of us can predict the future. Events, dear boy, events makes fools of us all.
So am I saying we should do nothing at all. Far from it. I put my faith in some thing Jane Jacobs wrote more than twenty years ago:
“In its very nature, successful economic development has to be open-ended rather than goal-orientated, and has to make itself up expediently and empirically as it goes along. For one thing, unforseeable problems arise. The people who developed agriculture couldn’t foresee soil depletion. The people who developed the automobile couldn’t foresee acid rain. Earlier I defined economic development as a process of continually improvising in a context that make injecting improvisations into everyday life feasible. We might amplify this by calling development an improvisational drift into unprecedented kinds of work that carry unprecedented problems, then drifting into improvise solutions, which carry further unprecedented work carrying unprecedented problems…”
(Jane Jacobs, “Cities and the Wealth of Nations”,Penguin Books, 1986 pp221-222)
I see our most urgent task being devising and designing new contexts for productive improvisation, alongside nurturing those we can already identify. I believe if we look outside the areas of big government and industry, we may already be creating the seeds of the next civilisation, that takes account of the fact that we live in a vast network of interactions that if we play our proper part will continue to sustain us over many centuries.
Of course, my faith may be totally misplaced. The threshold beyond which there is no safe place for us may have already been passed. But then maybe is hasn’t.
So am I worried? Well, yes, but cheerfully so.