Recently I watched a TED talk by ecologist Allan Savory entitled “How to fight desertification and reverse climate change”. By the end I was inspired, hopeful and excited to enter into this future of problem solving, in which we work towards innovative solutions and, upon their application, witness evidential change. We have the research; we have the technology; we have the evidence of success. It seems that with today’s immense levels of brainpower and exponentially rising applications of technology, the issue of the Anthropocene and climate change should have been tackled relatively quickly. However, it was then that I realised the key ingredient for success that we lack: the acceptance of responsibility. In the same smug breath that declares our inability to survive without our latest technological acquisition, we wistfully lament the simpler times of our device-free lives; a time before blissful innocence was replaced by blatant ignorance. In most fields, contemporary society has sought to improve upon the lifestyles of previous generations, so why aren’t we as willing to evolve beyond the traditional patterns of mass consumption, deforestation, poor waste disposal, and burning of fossil fuels? Because we didn’t make the mess, so why should we have to clean it up?
The steadfast avoidance of accepting responsibility, the relentless quest for an alternative subject of blame, is akin to the fluffy small talk that tiptoes around the obese elephant in the room. Pope Francis (2015), in his second encyclical, Laudato si: On Care for Our Common Home, highlights our dangerous human tendency to adopt an attitude of “complacency and cheerful recklessness” in such situations where big issues require “bold decisions”. This concept of “quietism”, explored by philosopher and anthropologist, Bruno Latour (2013), is an attitude that pervades all areas of our modern lives: social, cultural, political, economic, etc. As Latour suggests in Telling Friends from Foes in the Time of the Anthropocene, it is the conflict between our actions and our environment that is so often “downplayed or euphemised” in order to lessen the guilt we naturally avoid. Artist and engineer, Natalie Jeremijenko, holds a similar stance, attributing the obliviousness of our current generation to the nature of the information age. “We talk about information excess and information overload…but that veil between production and consumption is radically thickened” she explained in an interview for Arena Magazine (Nelson, 2015).
It is worth asking that as the time lapse between posing a question and receiving an answer may be as a rapid as 0.38 seconds, as Google search so proudly boasts, have we lost the inquisitive curiosity that shapes the path of discovery? Are we so end-focused that we forget the significance of the journey in opening the solution space, or does the mere thought of a possible failure deter travellers from the start? Perhaps our established global culture of commercialisation, commodification and obsolescence is responsible for our ignorance and inability to accept responsibility. I am reluctant to ask how long we have optimistically advocated the “seeing is believing” mentality to accompany the “sweep it under the rug” behaviour in relation to the anthropocene, as I fear I already know the answer.
Pope Francis. 2015, Laudato si: on care for our common home, Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis. Accessed 20 August 2015, <http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html>.
Latour, B. 2013, Telling friends from foes in the time of the anthropocene, The Anthropocene and the Global Environment Crisis – Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, London, Routledge, p.145-155 (originally given as a lecture, Thinking the Anthropocene, EHESS, Paris, 14th-15th of November, 2013). Accessed 13 August 2015, < http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/535>.
Nelson R. 2011, Interview with Natalie Jeremijenko, Our Agency is Powerful: Future Foods for Humans and the Planet, Arena Magazine , No. 114. Accessed 13 August 2015, <http://www.carbonarts.org/articles/our-agency-is-powerful/>.
Savory, A. 2013, How to fight desertification and reverse climate change, TED Talk, recorded 13 February 2013, Accessed 13 August 2015, <http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change?language=en>