I have been asking myself the question – “How are we supposed to live in this age of carbon limits and energy sustainability?” And it seems to me that we cannot accept or require that each person live under some intricately defined limits and rules but rather perhaps we can live in fairness to one another if we could agree to live sustainably by some broad but quantifiable definition. (Others have asked this question – Peter Singer wrote a book with this title but it was more focused on how we treat living animals than energy)
By systainable, I mean that for our energy lives perhaps we all agree by 2020 or some date that we live where we produce as much energy as we use. It may be that such a goal can only be achieved by some fraction of society by that time. Perhaps some progressive phase in of this objective such as the wealthiest 10% of the country must achieve this by 2020 and then the top 25% by 2030, the top 50% by 2040 and so forth.
But key to this is how we begin to make the transition.
I have been reading a terrific book entitled – “The Constant Fire” by Adam Frank. Adam Frank is a PhD astrophyscist by training (something we share in common) but this book is highly approachable. In it he carefully lays out how we have put science up on a very high pedastle but in fact it is only the latest (and quite long running) of man made mental constructs that allow us to better understand our universe.
In the past we had the world held up by a turtle or a very strong man and a charriot pulling the various elements in the solar system about in the sky. Science allows us to make more numerous and more accurate predictions than these previous systems. But it is hubrious for us to think that our science of today has the last word.
The title of this essay – “Myth and Transformation” relates to the need for us to transform across all of the human family. We cannot continue to keep buring fossile fuel, polluting the planet, using limited resources. As a species we have come to dominate the planet in a way never before achieved. if you look at Earth from space, you know that human beings dominate the planet.
In visible light you see our cities lighting up the night. In radio light you can listen to radio, watch TV and listen in on internet traffic over various frequencies. The planet is changing visibly in terms of the geography as well. The northern polar ice cap is disappearing and that has not happened in a very long time. Large ice areas in the antartica are also diminishing. Overall our global temperature is changing and this can be determined from space using yet another frequencey of light. (Note – radio, visible light, heat or infrared light are all forms of light and obey the same scientific laws)
The evidence is quite strong that if we do not change our directions we will change our climate and biosphere in ways that could damage our planet’s ability to support complex life like human beings.
Ok, Ok, Frank. But Myth …
It turns out that as we can see Science as our most modern and pervasive myth, we can perhaps be humble enough to use other lessons from human history and our myths in the past. Myths have been a fundamental way we have been able to make changes.
In early human history boys as they transition to manhood and participated in the hunt (which was dangerous generally) were inducted into this activity through stories and myths. They might be taken into caves and shown paintings of the hunt and the harm that can come during such times. The myths of the hunt were its heroics, triumphs and so forth and by the telling courage was given to the boy about to become a man.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr puts it this way in “The Cycles of American History” – “Science and technology revolutionize our lives but memory, tradition and myth frame our response”.
Technology can help us know of the need to change our interaction with our natural world. Science can make models and projections of what will happen if we do not change. But still we will not change based on these “fact based models” alone. We need our myths and traditions (probably including our religious traditions) to help lead the transformation.
More on this in the next essay