Why can’t we see around the corner? How can society take action on climate change–let alone generate an overall consensus?
Aren’t scores of reports commissioned and agencies empowered to plan (predict?) what is ahead? James Atlas offers a bit of pondering on the uses of Turkish ruins, the implications of a hurricane, and the fate of an “improbable” city.
There had been warnings. In 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change issued a prophetic report. “In the coming decades, our coastal city will most likely face more rapidly rising sea levels and warmer temperatures, as well as potentially more droughts and floods, which will all have impacts on New York City’s critical infrastructure,” said William Solecki, a geographer at Hunter College and a member of the panel. But what good are warnings? Intelligence agents received advance word that terrorists were hoping to hijack commercial jets. Who listened? Not George W. Bush. If we can’t imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of a city?
History is a series of random events organized in a seemingly sensible order. We experience it as chronology, with ourselves as the end point — not the end point, but as the culmination of events that leads to the very moment in which we happen to live. “Historical events might be unique, and given pattern by an end,” the critic Frank Kermode proposed in “The Sense of an Ending,” his classic work on literary narrative, “yet there are perpetuities which defy both the uniqueness and the end.” What he’s saying I think is that there is no pattern. Flux is all.