We are living in the Anthropocene, the new epoch in Earth’s history, when human activity is the greatest biological, ecological and even geological force. Yet our cultural knowledge still dates back to the Pleistocene, to sitting around the campfire telling stories to each other. We need to quickly figure out how to make our most meaningful stories about what it means to be human, to include how we will navigate out of this self-created mess.
Most deeply embedded human knowledge comes from stories, yet we have no stories that incorporate the massive climate changes now underway. We haven’t learned how to live sustainably on the Earth for multiple generations, at current levels of affluence and technology. We have advocates for a “circular economy,” but no one is really listening to them. What happens when sea levels rise five feet above current levels?
We are desperately in need of the same level of fiction writing that helped reverse the seemingly inexorable trend toward nuclear warfare in the 1950s and 1960s, with novels such as On the Beach, which dramatized how people would choose to respond to radioactive fallout drifting their way. And we need scientists to step up with graphic warnings such as Carl Sagan’s “Nuclear Winter” scenario in 1983, which dramatized the effects of nuclear war on our climate.
We need a “virtual campfire” in which our most creative minds and most important media stop obsessing about Donald Trump and turn their attention to the real threat to our country posed by massive, unpredictable, chaotic climate change. Can we find them in time?
Perhaps we can still imagine a world in which we live well as 9 billion people on a continuously habitable planet. That will take some imagination from lots of people!