Memory Seed At 25, Day 5

by stephenpalmersf

The Climate Emergency in 2021 is worse than ever. In 1992, I was thinking about global warming, the ozone hole and humanity’s ethical attitude to the planet. Many people thought about CO2 and spray cans, but fewer considered how we should be conceiving nature and the environment. As individualistic Westerners, most, if not all of my readership considered themselves apart from nature, if not actually above it, and perhaps would have been surprised by my advocacy of ethical change. I’ve long thought the Climate Emergency requires an ethical solution, not a technological one – or, at least, an ethical solution with a bit of technology thrown in. The problem is our carbonised technology, yes; but below that is a deeper layer. Us.

Of late it has become rather unfashionable to claim human beings are qualitatively different to animals and the rest of nature, because to many people that distinction implies we are a special case deserving special treatment – i.e. we can carry on polluting etc. I say human beings are qualitatively different but don’t deserve special treatment. To use David Attenborough’s mode, we have to co-exist with nature. We do share this planet, and all life is worthy and valuable purely through its existence. Nature has a right to life just as we do. I see no conflict in human beings being conceived as different and in us living ethically with nature on a single planet. We simply have to stop pretending we are the masters with a right to exploit and despoil. We also have to stop pretending we are entirely free. We are not. Living on one planet limits us – a very hard fact to swallow.

The thing is: we have to choose our future. At the moment that is very difficult, because we have not yet learned to create just, insightful societies based on true human needs. What we have at the moment is a terrible array of beasts on our back: narcissism, patriarchy, capitalism, religious and magical thinking, and a basic, widely-shared lack of understanding of ourselves – which, to be fair, is largely due to our current historical position.

Currently, we are beginning to put into place the technological fix, and – who knows? – perhaps that will be in place by 2050 or 2060, as appears necessary. But with humanity currently playing with AI fire and addicted to its own digital media, those beasts on our backs are getting heavier and more powerful. The ethical solution seems to be a long way off.

I hope a time doesn’t arrive when those beasts halt all ethical progress, because then we would be slaves. One of the central messages of Memory Seed is that we can’t be saved – we have to save ourselves. But if we are enslaved, that feat will be almost impossible.