Bryan Caplan catches George Monbiot saying something rather silly:


When I watched The Road, it seemed nearly apolitical.  At the most abstract level, you could take it as a defense of Hobbes against Locke.  But it's hard to see how liberals, conservatives, libertarians, or anyone else would see it as even a feeble vindication of their views.  So I was surprised to discover this review of the book by Guardian columnist George Monbiot.  The bizarre opening paragraph:
A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent SpringSmall Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.
When I read this, I almost immediately wondered: How would this make The Roadany more "important" than the literally hellish Left Behind novels?  Mere fiction about the apocalypse hardly shows it's likely to happen.  

Monbiot admittedly seems vaguely aware of this concern.  He does grant that The Road's scenario is highly unlikely:

Cormac McCarthy's book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot...McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

...It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity's time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. 
Still, this leaves me wondering: What makes The Road more relevant than Left Behind?  Yes, a "thought experiment" where all biological production ceases is terrifying.  But then again, so is a thought experiment where God raptures the faithful and leaves us reprobates to face the Antichrist (a.k.a. Nicolae Carpathia if you see the movie version produced by Alex Tabarrok's brother Nicholas).  I guess Monbiot's answer would be that a scaled-down version of The Road might really happen, while Left Behind isn't going to happen even on a small scale.  

I can buy that story, but it's still unsatisfying.  If The Road exposes our utter dependence on biological production, one could just as easily write dystopian novels to expose our utter dependence on modern technology, fossil fuels, or even, dare I say, the "men of the mind."  The lesson: Human civilization requires many ingredients to exist.

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If you ask me, the rapture is more likely than the total destruction of the biosphere within the lifespan of the human species.  Even nuclear winter wouldn't kill all the life on earth; it is now believed that the earth was at one point actually entirely covered with snow, and life (albeit primitive, single-celled life) survived.  And of course, there is currently quite a bit of life in extreme northern latitudes.  The earth, and biosphere, are extremely resilient.  Eventually, of course, the planet will be eaten by a supernova or ice over as the sun dies, or maybe get smashed by a really giant asteroid.  But these things are probably billions of years off, at which point I very much doubt the species will still be around.

I can picture all sorts of disasters that do kill of humans, or plunge us into some horrible post-apocalyptic scenario.  Some of them are environmental.  But the total disappearance of the biosphere, or anything close to it? Not among them.  Meanwhile, while the rapture doesn't strike me as precisely likely, I don't have enough data to rule it out, either.

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