Apollo’s Curse and Climate Change

29 Sep


            The fertile mythic mind of ancient Greece gave us a tragically relevant tale, told in different versions, of how the Greek god Apollo laid a curse of the beautiful and humanly captivating Cassandra. According to the myth Apollo was so moved by Cassandra’s beauty and presence that he conferred the gift of prophesy enabling her to apprehend accurately the future. Yet the gift came with a rather large macho string attached: he expected in return that Cassandra would agree to become his love partner, but she by tradition was sufficiently attached to her virginity and pride as to refuse Apollo’s crude entreaty. Angered by such defiance, Apollo laid upon this innocent young woman a lethal curse: she would continue to foretell the future but she would never be believed. Such a twin destiny drove Cassandra insane, surely a punishment of virtue that was perversely exacted. Or are we as mortals expected always to cast aside our morals and virtue whenever the gods so demand?


            The sad story of Cassandra is suggestive of the dilemma confronting the climate change scientific community. In modern civilization, interpreting scientific evidence and projecting trends, is as close to trustworthy prophesy as this civilization is likely to get. Modernity has proceeded on this basis, applying knowledge to bring greater material benefits to humanity, including longer and healthier lives. The culture is supposed to place its highest trust in the scientific community as the voice of reason,  and modernity is largely understood as allowing scientific truth and instrumental reason to supersede superstition and religious revelation. Galileo’s capitulation to the authority of the Catholic Church is the insignia of the pre-modern worldview that made religion the incontestable source of truth.


            The world scientific community has spoken with as much authority as it can muster in relation to climate change. The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drawing on the work of thousands of climate specialists around the world, has concluded that the continuation of greenhouse gas emissions at current rates, as a result of human activities, is almost certain to cause a disastrous level of global warming, that is, above 2 degrees centigrade, that will produce, and is already producing, a series of disastrous effects on planet earth that cannot be adequately explained by natural weather cycles: extreme weather; polar melting; droughts and flooding; ocean warming  and acidification; desertification; destruction of coral reefs and fisheries . Among the societal effects, already felt in various places, would be food insecurity, ethnic conflict, environmental migrants and refugees, and coercive to patterns of governance. Depending on how much global warming takes place over what period of time, there are more dire predictions being made by reputable observers (James Hanson, Bill McKibben, James Lovelock) civilizational collapse and even threats to species survival.


            Why is the strong consensus of the scientific community so ineffectual on this issue? Why are its dire warnings substantially ignored? The full story is complicate and controversial. There are several underlying explanations: states primarily look after national interests, and are reluctant to cooperate when expected burdens on economic prosperity are likely to be heavy; this is particularly true when the complexities of an issue make it almost impossible to agree upon an allocation of economic responsibility for the buildup of greenhouse gasses over the course of several centuries; ordinary people are reluctant to give up present gains to offset future risks, especially when the sky that they daily see looks no different and massive poverty exists; politicians are far less moved to action by risks that will not materialize for some decades, given their short cycles of present accountability almost totally based on present performance; the worst current effects of global warming are taking place in countries, sub-Saharan Africa, which makes only minimal contributions to emissions, and so there is a mismatch between the sites of emission and sites of current harm; those with entrenched interests in refusing to curtail present uses of fossil fuels, have the incentive and resources to fund a counter-narrative that denies the asserted threat of global warming; as the threat is primarily in the future, despite some conjectured present harm, there is always an element of uncertainty as to the reliability of predicted effects, and there are likely to be some scientists who sincerely dissent from the prevailing views, especially if their research is funded by those with an interest in promoting climate skepticism. There is also a corporate mentality, generally sincere, that is convinced that a technological fix will emerge in time to address what truths are embedded in predictions of harm from global warming, and some geo-engineering ‘fixes’ are already at the blueprint stage.


            What then is the relevance of the curse of Apollo? By making the political process in a world of sovereign states primarily responsive to the siren call of money, the guidance of science is marginalized. More explicitly, when money in large quantities does not want something to happen, and there is absent countervailing monetary resources to offset the pressures being exerted, knowledge will be subordinated. We have become, maybe long have been, a materialistic civilization more than a scientific civilization.


            This overall picture is complicated by the fact that the scientific consensus is endorsed by most governments at the level of rhetoric, but without the political will, to change the relevant pattern of behavior.  If we look at the declarations being endorsed by governments at the annual UN climate change gatherings, we might be surprised by the degree to which political leaders are willing to affirm their sense of the urgency in relation to the climate change challenge, while at the same time in their diplomatic role using the geopolitical leverage at their disposal to make sure that no obligations are imposed that require an agreed level of reductions in emissions at levels that are responsive to the recommendations of the scientists.


            The case of the United States is exemplary. It remains the largest per capita emitting country, although surpassed for the last couple of years by China in relation to aggregate total emissions. It remains the world leader in relation to the formation of global policy on problems of planetary dimension. It has been led in the past decade by one president who was distinctly anti-environmental and another who once talked the talk of environmentalism, and yet the approach has been basically the same—avoid

all commitments that might encroach upon present or future economic growth. In effect, it has been the United States, more than any country, even during the Obama presidency, that has poured ice cold water on international climate change negotiations. There are some explanations for this disappointing de facto accommodation to the position of the climate skeptics, thereby wasting valuable adjustment time: an economic crisis at home and abroad that makes it politically difficult to weaken in any way economic prospects by invoking environmental concerns, a reactionary Congress that would block appropriations and national commitments associated with climate change protection, a presidential leadership that tends to shun controversial issues, and a public that cares about its immediate material wellbeing beyond asserted worries about the future.


            The long struggle to discourage smoking due to its health risks illustrates both the frustrations of the scientific community, the ambivalence of politicians, and the powerful obfuscating tactics of the tobacco industry. But smoking was easier: the health impacts could be addressed by individual action in response to what the scientific community was advising; there were no societal effects produced by a refusal to heed the warnings; time was not a factor except on a personal level; and adverse results were often concrete and afflicted the rich almost as much as the poor. In this sense, unlike climate change, there was a correlation between the harmful activity and the adverse effects on health, and less need for governmental action.


            Apollo’s curse, then, can be understood either in terms of the undue and destructive influence of money or as the cool aid of unconditional economic growth under present conditions of global warming and some additional issues of ecological sustainability. The warnings of the scientific community, while not quite voices in the wilderness, do increasingly seem shrill shouts of frustration that are only likely to intensify in the years to come as the evidence mounts and the heedlessness persists. Whether this induces madness remains to be seen? Perhaps, it is more likely, that most scientists will begin to feel as if members of a classic Greek theater chorus that bemoans the onset of a tragedy while recognizing their helplessness to prevent its unfolding before their eyes. Perhaps, it is easier to remain sane if part of a chorus than fated to make the life journey alone, an experience that undoubtedly added to the inevitability of Cassandra’s sad demise.    


8 Responses to “Apollo’s Curse and Climate Change”

  1. Albert Guillaume September 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    If a few billion people were to vanish from this planet, the impact of their departure would have a positive effect on the climate and the richest layer of society would inherently become richer by default, their seemingly ultimate goal.
    The scientific community has advanced far enough, to almost guarantee the maintenance or further advancement of the standard of living, they have acquired and seem to consider their birthright. Of course the question of morality and/or justification for the deliberate erasure of so much human life is not a point of consideration for those, who do not have any morals or humanistic persuasions to begin with.
    I have the distinct impression, that there is a small but very powerful clique at work on this planet, to attain just such a cruel and barbaric goal.
    I see it as the built-in curse of capitalism.

  2. Ray Joseph Cormier September 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    Richard, I am happy to see you take on the complicated issue of environmental stability in addition to your other major concern of Israeli-Palestinian Peace and stability. God give you the strength and Wisdom to see these David vs Goliath type struggles through to resolution.

    I am in solidarity with you in seeking resolution of the two most important issues facing the common Future of Humankind.

    July 11, 2012

    I totally relate to Cassandra’s curse. On September 13, 1976, The Kansas City Times records as a Marker of Time;

    ¨He said this country is uncaring and apathetic and has just 30 months to change such attitudes. The 30 month figure stems from another Biblical prophecy, he said, concerning a treaty with Israel-and a Treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed last year.¨

    The article continues in quotation marks, ¨There are 30 months before the fate of the world will be sealed with EITHER destruction OR the universal brotherhood of man,¨ he said. ¨The 30 month figure concerned a Treaty between Israel and Egypt.¨

    Not 29 or 31 Exactly 30 months later, in March 1979, history shows a Treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed, The Camp David Accord. History shows the talks broke down on the 12th day and no Treaty was to be signed. Begin and Sadat were leaving.

    It was on the 13th Day, as in the date of the Article and the picture accompanying it, an unexpected window of opportunity appeared and opened the way for the Treaty to be signed.

    The Camp David Treaty signified the Universal Brotherhood part of the quote.

    That September 13, 1976 Kansas City Times report also records the rise of Persa-Iran before the fact, which also happened in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution. Obviously, this contest has the potential to fulfill the destruction part of the 1976 prophecy.

    The world has Generally evolved along the lines of these Markers of Time.

    The made for TV movie ‘The Day After’ Kansas City was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust when it was too late to stop, was shown November 20, 1983. The last frames of the movie are the image from the ALL SOULS DAY, November 2, 1976 Kansas City Times record 7 years earlier.
    Some will dismiss it as a co-incidence, but it is an exceptionally powerful co-incidence.

    I say it’s more of a “sign” for this Armageddon Generation. See and Judge for yourself;

    From the Revolutionary Spirit of ’76 to the Revolutionary Spirit of ’11
    February 23, 2011

    • Richard Falk October 3, 2012 at 1:37 am #

      We seem to agree on most things, which i find encouraging, along with your religious understandings.

    • rehmat1 October 4, 2012 at 5:44 am #

      The David Camp was an anti-Islam imperial tactic to let European Jews to grab more Arab land by pitting Muslims against each others. All these so-called ‘Biblical prophecies’ comes from the Zionist project of Scofield Bible. The ‘Armageddon Generation (Evangelism) is best explained by the US-Russian Jewish editor Mark Ames in his 2004 article.


    • monalisa October 4, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      To Ray Joseph Cormier:

      I don’t agree with any prophecy – this, because prophecies over the times were always written in such a manner that any time it could be interpreted according to some happenings/turmoils etc.
      When I remember the sixties and eighties of the last century what has been said …. and what is said today ..

      However, I agree with your very sensitive outlook of our days. You are correct and we just can hope.

      Your wording “Amargeddon Generation” fits perfectly.

      I hope the best but fear the worst.

      Keep your good faith !

      And thank you for trying and trying to bring people to more understanding of our world and how to beheave !


  3. lachappelle October 1, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    I really like this entry. What an interesting analogy!

  4. monalisa October 4, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Dear Richard,

    what a perfect analogy is your essay.
    We have here a little bit more understanding this because politicans are more eager to bring people to a better and more responsible energy-consumption.
    The coming Saturday is here in Graz an event where from children to young adult and adults to seniors everybody can get some information what each person can do not to consume more energy than necessary. From cycling to insulation of houses things and ideas will be presented. This has been organized by our politicans.

    As most houses in Europe are massive brick houses with thick walls (older ones more than 20 inch, younger ones about 15 inch at least) for about twenty years passive houses are propagated and more and more new buildings and houses must have a certain standard to meet the required energy-pass.

    With better built houses, buildings etc. less energy must be consumed.

    I think if people get more and more aware that each person can also do something for our environment the awareness and responsibility how to live and how to manage our environment things could change from the bottom on a daily basis.

    Waiting until politicans in some countries will change – no, they wont. Most politicans in so-called democratic Western Countries are “managed” by big companies or secret services or military complexes.

    No, they will not listen to Cassandras prophecy – which meanwhile is already visible and cannot be overlooked.

    PS. The Austrian Alpin Society measures each year since 1865 the glaciers on our alps and they are working together with the Swiss, Bavarian, Italian and French Alpin Societies in this field.Their measurements are totally independent of any political influence.

    Take care of yourself,



  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Apollo’s Curse and Climate Change - October 1, 2012

    […] Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).Go to Original – richardfalk.comClick to share this article: facebook | twitter | email. Click here to download this article as a […]

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