To stop global catastrophe, we must believe in humans again

By | April 23, 2019

Bill McKibben writes:

Because I am concerned about inequality and about the environment, I am usually classed as a progressive, a liberal. But it seems to me that what I care most about is preserving a world that bears some resemblance to the past: a world with some ice at the top and bottom and the odd coral reef in between; a world where people are connected to the past and future (and to one another) instead of turned into obsolete software.

And those seem to me profoundly conservative positions. Meanwhile, oil companies and tech barons strike me as deeply radical, willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere, eager to confer immortality.

There is a native conservatism in human beings that resists such efforts, a visceral sense of what’s right or dangerous, rash or proper. You needn’t understand every nuance of germline engineering or the carbon cycle to understand why monkeying around on this scale might be a bad idea. And indeed, polling suggests that most people instinctively oppose, say, living forever or designing babies, just as they want government action to stabilise the climate.

Luckily, we have two relatively new inventions that could prove decisive to solving global warming before it destroys the planet. One is the solar panel, and the other is the nonviolent movement. Obviously, they are not the same sort of inventions: the solar panel (and its cousins, the wind turbine and the lithium-ion battery) is hardware, while the ability to organise en masse for change is more akin to software. Indeed, even to call nonviolent campaigning a “technology” will strike some as odd. Each is still in its infancy; we deploy them, but fairly blindly, finding out by trial and error their best uses. Both come with inherent limits: neither is as decisive or as immediately powerful as, say, a nuclear weapon or a coal-fired power plant. But both are transformative nonetheless – and, crucially, the power they wield is human in scale. [Continue reading…]

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