The intervening centuries since Aquinas have brought us to greater apparent freedoms where, through the ambivalent graces of technological civilisation, the oral, the aural and the visual have become more available to us as ways of knowing the nature of this world and its perturbations.
Yet all of the written words, all of the spoken words and all of the images in the world have done little to alter our perverse determination to pursue the ways of perdition disguised as gain, to stridently claim our freedom to do what we want whenever we want to, to ruinously wage war without end without thought of the destruction of humans, of households and of the institutions and infrastructures of civil society, to enslave the hungry and the desperate in distant places in order to fill further the already surfeited shelves of our retail spaces, and to voraciously acquire wealth through whatever means can be gotten away with.
Yet there may be some goodwill. Look carefully between the lines served up in the soporific tabloids that litter the world and you may find an occasional impassioned call for justice, an occasional reflection on the crookedness of the times. Yet the wheel relentless turns, often crushing those who happen to find themselves in its path. We just don't seem to get it, while both elected and autocratic rulers get away with it all the time.
There are some who would shrug and call this the inevitable fruit of fallen human nature. But the blood-soaked earth and generations of grieving mothers bear witness to the folly of war. Meanwhile, we continue to prepare for the waging of war without end. It's good for business they say. Thus the whole inglorious human history.
Small wonder, then, that we remain benumbed even in the midst of the escalating predicament within which we collectively find ourselves, where the earth's finely wrought systems that balance the concentration of gases within the atmosphere, that maintain the fertility of forests, bushlands and prairies, and that regulate the composition and flow of oceanic waters are now irretrievable damaged by the ferocity and violence of technological civilisation.
The Thickening Air
Ross Garnaut put out his courageous call in 2008. Then came the serial collapse of the United Nations Climate Talks beginning with Copenhagen in 2009 and ending most recently in the non-event at Lima in December 2014.
Garnaut's visionary suggestions have been effectively castrated. Never mind that Australia is the second largest exporter of coal on the planet, producing 400 million tons of coal each year - over 17 tons of coal per year for every man, woman and child in this country. Under the so-called leadership of Tony Abbott and the Australian Liberal Party, lukewarm politicians have seen fit to completely abandon the carbon tax that the Labour Party had been trying to implement since 2008. Such knowledgeable and committed commentators as James Hansen and Bill McKibben are of the view that taxing carbon is the only way to effectively rein in inexorably escalating global emissions. Meanwhile, both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have just reported that 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded.
And of Tomorrow?
While President Obama plans for the next wave of space excursions that will initially aim for a manned landing on a large asteroid before a more ambitious landing on Mars, and while both Chinese and Russian scientists make plans to harvest tritium from the moon's surface to fuel the next generation of fusion reactors, we have yet to comprehend the enormity of the damage already done to the earth and the need for determined collective action if we are to retain any hope for a liveable future for our children and their generations.
It's not that we don't have the knowledge or the means of changing our present course. We just haven't grasped that the earth has her limits.
The Cold War may have ended, but the US and Russia continue to harbour over 15,000 nuclear warheads between them. And a further 1,000 nuclear weapons are held by the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel. Does the thought of overkill come anywhere into the lexicon, let alone the imagination, of politicians and military planners?
Are our written words to be as dust, scattered in a gathering wind? Are our calls for peace ever to be understood by those who move lines on maps? Will sanity ever carry the day in the face of growing environmental and ecological calamities? Will we ever find the will to find new ways of being on the earth?
Vincent Di Stefano D.O., M.H.Sc.