Essays on war and the “eve of what may be the human world’s greatest catastrophe.”
Novelist and journalist Scranton (English/Notre Dame Univ.; War Porn, 2016, etc.) collects essays and talks, most previously published, that primarily cover climate change, serving with the Army in the Middle East, race, and contemporary war literature. The author is clearly frustrated and angry, and he is doing his level best to face the doom and gloom. As he writes in the title essay, “we stand today on a precipice of annihilation that Nietzsche could not have even imagined.” In fact, he admits, “it’s probably already too late to stop apocalyptic planetary warming.” At this moment of crisis, we must use our “human drive to make meaning…[it’s] our only salvation.” In “Arctic Ghosts,” Scranton recounts a 2015 cruise he took in Canada. He writes about John Franklin’s 1845 failed expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Today, his cruise succeeded: “I was overtaken by the realization that what I’d come to see was already gone.” Our planet had warmed “beyond anything civilization has ever seen.” In “Rock Scissors Paper,” which he describes as a “Borgesian bastard,” the author riffs about our new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, “characterized by the advent of the human species as a geological force.” No one, he writes, “intended this, and we seem to be incapable of preventing it.” In “Anthropocene City,” Scranton chronicles his tour of heavily polluted Galveston Bay, “so full of PCBs, pesticides, dioxin, and petrochemicals that fishing is widely restricted.” When he writes about his personal involvement in war, it comes almost as a relief. In the book’s longest essay, the powerful “Back to Baghdad,” he returned as a journalist: “They stayed, I left. But while I may have left Iraq, Iraq hadn’t left me.”
Despite the inevitable repetitions, Scranton’s warnings must be heeded…again and again.