Dylan Evans, writing in The Huffington Post (UK), talks about the post-apocalyptic scenario that he was working upon as a Phd student at the LSE in the 1990s. It envisaged a crisis of peak oil and climate change. Pushed by Nick Bostrom (of simulation theory expertise), Evans gave a figure of 50% as a probable outcome. Evans had already set up a small settlement in Scotland to ride out these prospective troubles. However, the experiment was abandoned by him (perhaps it is best to enjoy comforts whilst they are still available?)
Now the very scenario that Evans imagined all of those years ago is evident in the hands of the Doomsday Clock moving towards midnight. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists adds environmental dystopia to its list of things that could go wrong. So, such far off disasters which we cannot model very well, if at all, become the basis for a world sitting at five minutes to midnight. In their own words, they state a lack of movement towards nuclear disarmament, no climate change treaty and an unwillingness to immediately bomb all coal stations and convert them into wind stilts or some such nonsense.
They should stick to their nuclear knitting. However, this does nuance Evans's point on our culture's view of the future: given a choice between better or worse, people choose worse and then start acting to make it so.
We live in strange times, caught between two opposing views of the future. On the one hand, the believers in technology and progress promise a world of ever increasing prosperity, a science-fiction scenario in which huge advances in technology have made material abundance and long healthy lives possible for people all over the world. On the other hand, the doomsayers warn us that climate change and the end of cheap oil will put an end to the stupendous economic growth we have seen in the past hundred years, and usher in a new dark age of poverty, disease and war. There are some middle positions, it is true, but they seem less convincing than the two extremes.
Recently, the doomsayers have been gaining the upper hand. On the surface, they may appear more sober, more realistic, and more courageous than the optimists. They want to stare the apocalypse in the face, which seems better than denying it could possibly happen. But thinking too intensely about the end of civilisation can be just as dangerous than denying the possibility of such a danger. It's important to consider such worst-case scenarios when planning for the future, but the point of considering them is to help one plan how to avoid them. If you dwell on them too much, you can begin to forget that this is just one possible future out of many, and start to think of it as an inevitable occurrence. And from there, it is not such a big step to start idealising this dark future. It's an extreme version of the 'sweet lemons' phenomenon.
What Evans does not yet grasp is that the ideology of dystopia or, more accurately, the politics of fear, is used to justify any number of rent-seeking coercive policies. Tied into funding networks and political legitimation, the pessimists need to clamber aboard scientific authority whilst avoiding counterthrusts of accountability or transparency that could derail the gravy train.