As I waited for the ferry to blow in at Gourock tonight, I heard a radio 4 programme on Thomas Midgely: the man who invented both leaded petrol and CFCs. I had never heard of him before, and it was disturbing to realise that one mind could be behind two inventions that so changed the course of the 20th century and so blighted the course of our planet.
Was he brilliant? Reckless? Unlucky? And if we had it all to do again, how would we weigh the decision: safe refrigeration (and thus powerful vaccines) vs. damage to the ozone. The effect of lead poising on people and planet vs. a world without powerful engines; vs. a second world war in which the allies did not have the technology to win.
I don’t know what to think, but suspect the answer lies somewhere here, in the Kyrie from R. S. Thomas’ Mass for Hard Times:
Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake — Lord have mercy.
Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief — Lord have mercy.
Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves — Lord have mercy.
And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we’re half-way down — Lord have mercy.