In over 15 years of blogging, in this and previous sites, I have mostly stayed away from the topic of climate change, the environmental catastrophe we are creating with our "perennial growth" myths and our disdain of our planet and the other species that inhabit it, and the continuous slaughter of over a billion animals every year for our unnecessarily opulent lunch tables. 

The reason of not touching the horrible situation we are facing is that, quite simply, I am not a true expert of the topic, and I wish to avoid adding a non well-informed voice to the high-noise discussions that take place over the web. On the other hand, I have just finished reading a book by Aurelien Barrau, a colleague (a theoretical physicist) from Grenoble, about the general topic of the impending disaster, the already profoundly immoral way we live our lives, and the need for a 180 degrees inversion. The book, titled "Le plus grand défi de l'histoire de l'humanité" (Paris, Dunod, 2018) ["The biggest challenge of the history of humankind"] is presently only available in French as far as I know (but I believe Amazon also offers a kindle edition in other languages). It is a small book of only 190 pages or so, and it easily reads in a weekend (if you know French, that is). And it is a painful eye opener. 

Of course I am writing of this book here because I liked it, but more than that, I read there everything I have been thinking for a long time - in particular, about how egoistic and mindless and immoral our society has become, and how strong is the imperative to change matters. So I agree to most of what Aurelien writes there.

After describing the irreversible process we have put in motion in the industrial age, laying out the horrible facts, and the forceful direction we are speeding up toward (an inhabitable Earth, devoid of animals and forests, too hot to live and toxic, with the remaining humans battling weather, famine, lack of water, and engaging in destructive wars and migrations), Aurelien explains how not only we are endangering our future as a species (and this calls for immediate action), but how we are already guilty of having been killing animals and plants at an horrifying rate (and this requires a complete change of behavior). 

In other words, we have set up the next global extinction, and it has been working terrifyingly well. If in a million years a new intelligent species should investigate the past history of our planet, perhaps they might not find much evidence of our civilization, but they would certainly infer that some very effective mechanism caused a global extinction in the matter of a very short time.

Aurelien puts his finger on the fact that what we are doing is profoundly immoral, and therefore the question is not how to mitigate climate change - something we cannot do at present, but we could in principle find a way to do in the future -, but how to enable a complete change of our destructive use of resources, progressive reduction of wildlife and forests and pollution included. And the only possible answer to this is, of course, revolutionary. Invert growth - growing smaller.

The paradigm of economics 101 is growth. We have learnt that either we grow - we produce more, consume more, expand, extend - or we fail: recession, loss of economic power, stagnation. But seeking continuous growth is in truth the sure way to disaster. What we should instead do is to realize that eternal growth is not only physically impossible, but completely criminal. We are destructing our environment and the bill will be paid by our children and grandchildren. We must stop this now, because we cannot stop it yesterday and it would be worse to stop it tomorrow.

Of course, we all realize that reverting the way the world economy works is a "mission impossible". However, we must try to do whatever is in our power - from small to big things. Consuming less, buying less, eating local, consume less meat or better becoming vegetarian, recycle, travel less: these are things we can all do. At a bigger scale, we should discuss these topics more openly whenever we have a chance, teach our children what we have done to them and what we should start doing to prevent the catastrophe; ensure that teaching about the impending environmental catastrophe is the top priority of education in schools; and miss no chance to express our will to change matters to our political leaders, voting for those who put the defense of the environment and the reversal of this suicidal loop at the top of their priority list. 

If the above looks naive and delusional, well - there certainly is a big fat chance that we will be defeated in an attempt to save our asses, in fact, as we are way past the threshold in a number of key indicators, not just global warming but extinction of species, pollution, reduction of forests. But we can at least stop the immorality and our part in this global crime. And we should stop being ashamed of stating the obvious, and declaring we oppose this state of things. If only for ethical reasons.
In his book, Aurelien explains that he tries to do what he can to follow convictions with actions - he is a vegetarian, does not own a car, avoids unnecessary travel. But the point is not to decide if each of us is coherent or not with their convictions. The point is to grow a shared view, even if riddled with distinguos and slightly different views on details, on the absolute gravity of the situation and on the need to take action now. We might not all completely agree on the relative benefits of nuclear energy or electric cars (Aurelien is in favor of a slow decommissioning of nuclear plants, while I think this is not a real priority), we might discuss whether we need veganism or we can allow ourselves to exploit animals for secondary products; we might have different views on how to achieve the goals, but as pointed out in the book, we have better address this urgent challenge by fighting the effects before we get to the root of all evils and concoct a grand plan to attack the causes, because we have no time left.

Ok, now shoot at me - I know many readers will disagree with the above in various ways. But I still think we need to have this discussion and try to get all involved, and seek an agreement on the fact that this topic needs to be above all others from now on.


Tommaso Dorigo (see his personal web page here) is an experimental particle physicist who works for the INFN and the University of Padova, and collaborates with the CMS experiment at the CERN LHC. He coordinates the MODE Collaboration, a group of physicists and computer scientists from eight institutions in Europe and the US who aim to enable end-to-end optimization of detector design with differentiable programming. Dorigo is an editor of the journals Reviews in Physics and Physics Open. In 2016 Dorigo published the book "Anomaly! Collider Physics and the Quest for New Phenomena at Fermilab", an insider view of the sociology of big particle physics experiments. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon, or contact him to get a free pdf copy if you have limited financial means.