Books: Exploring the tension at the heart of the “end of days” versus human progress

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Arno Kopecky’s new book about our rolling environmental train wreck is lucid, nuanced and thought-provoking as it tackles the dilemma it dissects

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The environmentalist’s dilemma: promise and peril in the age of the climate crisis

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Arno Kopecky | ECW Press (Toronto, 2021)

$24.95 | 254pp.


Vancouver-area author Arno Kopecky has a problem, and he believes it’s a dilemma shared by many of us. We are aware of the slow but deadly wrecks of climate change, global warming and species extinction. We know the planet is on fire and we mourn the loss of much of the variety and splendor of life.

He reminds us that a 2018 study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that human-induced climate change and habitat destruction have already wiped out 83% of all mammal species, 50% plant species and 15% fish species. .

And the great massacre has only just begun. The United Nations recently predicted that by the end of the current century, more than one million species will be threatened with extinction. Our children and grandchildren, if they survive, will live alone on a poisoned planet swept by a violent climate, huddled among the sordid ruins we left them.

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And yet, in many ways, our century marks a high point for human progress. Democracy, albeit fragile and currently under attack, has flourished to an unprecedented degree, abject poverty has been reduced and human lifespans have been extended. Meanwhile, “gender equality, food security and public education are spreading across the planet, as is access to medicine and the whole specter of a recent invention called human rights.” And despite all our missteps and mistakes, the global response to our last pandemic was far more effective than the human response to the Black Death in the Middle Ages.

Here is the dilemma. How can people of conscience resolve the tension between the two opposing truths sketched above? Are we at the end of time or the dawn of a new era of human progress – or both?

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This new book from Kopecky, whose 2014 book The Oil Man and the Sea won the Edna Staebler Prize and was shortlisted for several other awards that year, is likely to earn even more success from the author. It is lucid, nuanced and thought provoking as it grapples with the dilemma it explores. It is informative without being polemical and never yields to the temptation to nag, preach and condemn that is so common in environmental writing. It’s also surprisingly funny and touching. All in all, a must-read for both the staunch environmental activist and the skeptical environmentalist.

Highly recommended.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your comments and story tips at [email protected]

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