Cultural Knowledge Gaps

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.

 We’ve come a long way since being bent over apes, haven’t we?

We’ve come a long way since being bent over apes, haven’t we?

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 don’t really expect Greenland’s ice caps to melt and the Antarctic glaciers to disappear into the sea, but that may be just what is happening.

We don’t really expect Greenland’s ice caps to melt and the Antarctic glaciers to disappear into the sea, but that may be just what is happening.

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?

 We still learn our most deeply embedded knowledge, what we know to be “true” about the world from each other, whether in family settings, at a backyard BBQ, in a sports pub or at our workplace. How much do we discuss climate change when we get together in those relaxed and casual places?

We still learn our most deeply embedded knowledge, what we know to be “true” about the world from each other, whether in family settings, at a backyard BBQ, in a sports pub or at our workplace. How much do we discuss climate change when we get together in those relaxed and casual places?

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!