I thought we could do with some cheerful thoughts, as we approach the end of this dreadful year. So here goes.
In about 7.5 billion years’ time our earth – or the shrivelled, scorched remnant of it – will fall into the sun, and disappear. Long before then, in just a few million years, life on it – ‘as we know it, Jim’ – will have become impossible. With present rates of climate change, it might get pretty unbearable far sooner. Fires and floods will sweep over the earth; the continents will shrink; and most living things will starve. – Feeling better now?
In fact that’s what comforts me at night when I contemplate the world today, and my own tiny contribution to it; all the opportunities I’ve missed – the books I haven’t written, good deeds I haven’t done – in my nearly eighty years of life. In the long, indeed the ultimate, term none of this matters. Everything will go black; just as it will for me personally. So there’ll be nothing to regret.
But it’s not my death or my reputation or my undelivered work that I’m concerned about, or even the future of the human race, per se. It’s Mozart. I can accept the prospect of the end of me, of the world, and even of the known universe; but I can’t bear the thought of a future – anybody’s future – in which Mozart’s music hasn’t survived, in one form or another, but instead has been swallowed up by the same blackness that will consume me. By Mozart I don’t mean only him, of course; I’m using his name as a shorthand term for all the great cultural creations of humanity during its brief existence on this earth: Shakespeare, French cathedrals, Italian Renaissance painters, German music, English romantic poetry, the game of cricket… and those are only some of the European ones. Our creativity is the thing that justifies us as a species, makes us part of the Godhead (however you want to conceive of that), and so cannot – please! – just disappear. But it will do, if it’s dependent on the continued existence of our planet to survive.
Which is why it’s essential (a) to keep the earth going as long as we can: here I’m at one with Greta and the environmentalists; and (b) in the meantime to redouble our efforts to search for an alternative home for our species if all that comes to nought. If just a few of us managed to escape to Alpha Centauri, bringing Mozart’s Requiem with them, I’d feel more relaxed about our ‘end’. Which is why I’m also very supportive of Elon Musk and those others who are spending their ill-gotten capitalist gains trying, at any rate, to reach for the stars. Mozart’s immortality may depend on it.
This should be all our governments’ top priority. Every other issue – even Brexit – is trivial. (Which makes me feel better about Brexit too.)