Dominic Fox, following up on a question Jodi Dean’s (“what if the world has already ended and we are persisting in its degrading memory?”), suggests that perhaps all the urgent calls for action, every ultimatum, is already too late. For example, “at least one plausible model of climate change asserts that all the emissions needed to change the climate irrevocably have already been emitted, and the effects of this change are even now ineluctibly unfolding: we pass from tipping-point to tipping-point.” More generally, the results of death and disease — which are always specific historical deaths from specific diseases — are irrevocable. He uses the example of HIV/AIDS, but one could also cite the deaths of entire species, which we manage to cause “by accident,” an unconscious supplement to the conscious and somehow never quite fully accomplished projects of genocide.
In conversation once with someone with deep ecofeminist sympathies, I suggested that the “deep ecology” dream of simply eliminating humanity from the picture would not achieve the desired results. Even if one could at some point posit humanity as an eliminable parasite, the effects of human action have reached a tipping point such that if the Rapture came and took every single human beings, species would continue to die off, climate change would continue its course — one could envision a humanless world full of nothing but cockroaches and bacteria, processing the seemingly infinite waste we’ve left behind. Paradoxically, the only solution I could envision was precisely a human solution — some previously unimagined technological intervention that could somehow set things right (even if it were only something like massive reforestation projects, etc.).
I tend to read Paul as thinking, as many present-day people do, that the world is heading toward destruction on its own inertia, but as a result of human actions. (This kind of attitude does not seem to have been unique to Paul at the time — although they did not have the same type of empirical data that we have collected, there was nonetheless a widely-shared sense that “this cannot go on forever.”) Paul also shares with many contemporary thinkers an acknowledgment that the fate of the entire created world is inextricably tied together with the fate of humanity:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
The redemption of creation will have been a human redemption — and human redemption is also necessarily the redemption of all of creation. Also interesting is this idea of “the one who subjected it,” namely creation — was this God, or humanity? Certainly we can understand humanity to have subjected creation to futility, in the form of the meaningless capitalist accumulation followed by the senseless destruction represented by crisis — but is there a way any longer to think of the creation as having been subjected “in hope,” in hope of a greater abundance, of a flourishing of life? Or has the window closed on that as well (perhaps, as Dominic’s commenter Owen suggests and I have also hinted at elsewhere, in 1914)?
It somehow seems more intuitively plausible that the possibility of redemption could open up at a discrete historical moment than that the possibility could be decisively lost at a discrete historical moment — very “American” of me, I’m sure. We always get a second chance, right? But as we all know, in the one life that we each have, that is not always the case — in our one life, it is possible to screw things up irrevocably. I can see no reason that such an irrevocable mistake could not, mutatis mutandis, occur in humanity’s shared history as well.