Friday 27 September 2019

The Curse Of Cassandra.

Unheeded: What god has Greta Thunberg offended, I wonder, to be afforded so many opportunities to deliver so many chilling warnings of climate catastrophe to so many world leaders – to so little effect? Like the Trojan seeress, Cassandra, she looks into the future and sees the ruin that awaits her generation, bears witness fearlessly to the truth, and is viciously derided for her trouble.

IT WAS CASSANDRA’S divinely administered curse: to see the future – but not to be believed. To secure the daughter of the King of Troy’s affections, the god Apollo bestowed upon her the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra, unsecured, refused his amorous advances, the angry god spat into her mouth: corrupting his own gift and sealing the princess’s fate.

Poor Cassandra, when the people of Troy, delirious at their “victory” over the Greeks, hauled within the city walls the mighty wooden horse left behind by their erstwhile besiegers as a “gift”, the seeress ran at it with axe and fire. The angry Trojans restrained Cassandra – calling her mad. The Greek warriors hidden in the horse’s belly, fated to kindle the proud towers of Ilium, were spared.

What god has Greta Thunberg offended, I wonder, to be afforded so many opportunities to deliver so many chilling warnings of climate catastrophe to so many world leaders – to so little effect? Like the Trojan seeress, she looks into the future and sees the ruin that awaits her generation – and bears witness fearlessly to the truth.

Oh how she speaks! Sometimes with the cold detachment of the judge who looks down upon the convicted killer in the dock, conscious only of her duty to pass the sentence mandated by Mother Nature’s, immutable laws.

On other occasions, such as her speech to the Climate Summit in New York on Tuesday morning, Greta’s ice is mixed with fire. The pig-tailed 16-year-old’s voice trembles with emotions that threaten to overthrow her at any moment. Somehow, she regains control of herself, of her voice. Enough to pronounce her crushing judgement upon the generation who, by their obdurate inaction, have stolen their children’s future.

“We will never forgive you!”

Greta Thunberg is not the only player in the Climate Change tragedy upon whom has been laid the dreadful burden of Cassandra. Apollo has also spat into the mouths of the scientists.

All over the world they have laboured to collect the data. New Zealand scientist, Dave Lowe, started recording the slow but steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide as far back as 1973. For more than forty years these men and women of Science have watched the evidence accumulate. Knowing that the possibility of their being in error was getting smaller and smaller with every paper that was presented, every report that was published.

They have peered into the future. They know what lies ahead. The melting ice caps; the rising seas; the deadly storms. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, Pestilence, War and Death have all acknowledged their foresight with a studied nod of their terrifying heads. The scientists, too, have cried out a warning but, like Cassandra – and Greta – they have not been heeded.

Poor Greta. On Tuesday morning she told the assembled leaders of the world’s nations:

“You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that, because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil and that I refuse to believe.”

No, not evil, Greta. Say rather that we are enchanted. We can hear you but we cannot act. In the fairy tales you invoked so angrily in your speech, characters rendered so unaccountably immobile would be said to be “spellbound”.

What sort of spell could possibly be powerful enough to bind the whole of humanity: commoners as well as kings? To that question Greta’s speech also contained an answer:

“People are suffering. People are dying and dying ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth”.

Ah, yes – the money. And more than the money. The dream of wealth without consequences; power without restraint. That is the spell, Greta. That has always been the spell. And we cannot break it.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) was also captivated by the legend of Cassandra. In his eponymous poem he writes:

The power is yours, but not the sight;
You see not upon what you tread;
You have the ages for your guide,
But not the wisdom to be led.

Certainly not by a 16-year-old schoolgirl.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 September 2019.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Whenever a young person speaks truth to power, they get patronised half to death and often slimed by conservatives in particular. Particularly by the eejits on Fox News. I think this young woman must have the strength of Samson to put up with it, although she does make a good fist of trolling her critics. I'm bloody sure I couldn't handle it, too much of a temper.
But exactly the same thing happened with the kids who survived the Parklands shooting. At least the ones who came out in favour of gun control. "Immature, puppets, lesbian (not quite sure that's got to do with anything) incapable of mature thought." All except for the kid who came out in favour of more guns. Not a peep about him. But that's what conservatives do. They are very tribal.

Michael Smythe said...

A very good piece thanks Chris - but don't let the Nats see it. They will deride you for quoting the classics! To answer your question - Greta has offended the gods of mammon and the gods of blind, short-term self-indulgence.

another man said...

I don't deride you.
It is what I expect of you.

Climate change is and will always been here.
It is driven by the Sun.

Climate Emergency is about Power, Control and Money.
Nothing else.

John Hurley said...

If you want to gather honey you don't kick over the bee hive - you don't call people pigs for one thing and you don't minimise real consequences of giving up fossil fuels.

sumsuch said...

Your footnoters aside, why hasn't this been your priority since 1990 when this was known?

All we want is a proper addressing of climate change. A screamer for truth, instead of incrementalists. Our middle class doesn't seem to be able to do it with all our bribes.

sumsuch said...

Reading Richard Dawkins's first bio he mentioned ' a century of indulgence followed by a century of catastrophe.' Sounds logical to me. We need talkers rather than estimators. Furious talkers. You, on this basis , make a good case against these people in our present charge. But unlike 90 % we're interested in our politics. My sister maintains she's not interested in politics but her born-again religion makes her against the climate change consensus.

GJE said...

A nice parallel...Rather than offending the gods though, perhaps she is disbelieved for more mundane reasons...The story of the boy crying wolf maybe closer to the mark..

sumsuch said...

For all the fools, I love all the truth. That it should end in a cliff sounds about right. Endlessness … is our myth.

I really hate the thought of the cliff. Which I will probably see.

Nick J said...

I'm extremely cynical about this little girl and her rage at our leaders. I'm also extremely cynical about this week's climate change protests demanding our leaders do something.

Here's why. The little girl like the rest of us travels...using energy. She like the protesters eats industrially processed food that is packaged with plastics. She like the rest of us uses the internet that gobbles energy and resources.

When I heard the rhetoric of rage against our leaders all I heard was, "You did it not me, you fix it for me"! They all then drove home and enjoyed the lifestyle that creates global warming.

My take is that we won't change our ingrained habits voluntarily, but that if each and every one of did our we could cure this problem. Instead we demand others to be responsible for what we can all stop doing. Protesting won't fix it, each of us acting will. Plant a tree, refuse to buy packaged goods, ride a bike, be the difference.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The little girl like the rest of us travels...using energy."
So assuming she travels my plane and as I understand it she at least crossed the Atlantic in a sail powered boat, albeit as a publicity stunt, do you think that if she doesn't bother getting on the plane it's not going to go? Sorry that's a ridiculous criticism.
"She like the protesters eats industrially processed food that is packaged with plastics."
You know what she eats? That's more than I do. Although AFAIK, she's persuaded her parents to stop eating meat, and her mother who's a concert pianist, to stop flying. That would probably make up for her occasional flight.
But as I suggested, whenever a young person speaks up they get slimed, patronised, and made fun of. I think we should aim at something better than that.

Nick J said...

So GS, yes you point out things I don't know about her and her family that are rather interesting. That said I'm still cynical about the whole Greta phenomenon.

I'm not against her or the message, where I'm at is that directing rage at leaders is pointless. Her rage against them doesn't address the real issue which is how we the people act individually and collectively. She and her family sound like they have done the individual bit, but rather than berating our so called elite has she called upon us all to change our everyday lifestyle? My conviction is that our leaders won't help, that if we make the right choices we fix the problem and take the elite down at the same time.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick. It's the job of the young to be idealistic, and to be honest I think the old could do with being a bit less cynical. Individuals doing their bit might help, but the biggest polluters are big business – not necessarily directly. And they need reining in by "our so-called elite". Basically because they're the only ones who can do it, and that's getting marginal.
It's time that governments started subsidising things like electric cars – or even painting the roof of your house white – which someone told me would help if everyone did it.:) But particularly in the states, try getting round the car manufacturers lobby or the oil producers lobby or the farm lobby. Ordinary people don't have that sort of money.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Incidentally, here is a 16 year old girl who is obviously angry, but makes a lot of sense, who in her (presumably) second language is more coherent than Donald Trump and half the people who come here and comment. Interesting that. I know who I'd sooner listen to.

peteswriteplace said...

Should come back when she has matured and able to write her own speeches. Am arrogant and ignorant child.