When I did an Internet search for the phrase, “a vision for the Earth’s future” recently the first two results referred to NASA’s predictions of massive floods and the rest on the first page are religious sites, most of them offering various descriptions of the apocalypse. Evidently when it comes to visualizing our future, a lot of people expect the worst and are inclined to leave it up to God.
It is up to God, of course, but God gave us two eyes in the front of our heads to look forward and prepare for what’s to come.
As far as we know, there is only one species in the universe capable of conceptualizing its own impact on its habitat. That’s us. Our peculiar objectivity is the character trait that makes us human.
If we are defined by our capacity for objective thought, then we are now living in one of the definitive moments in human history. Our ability to conceptualize our own role in nature defines us as human beings. Our capacity for creating solutions to complex problems is the primary factor in our success as a species. In the Judeo-Christian Bible we define ourselves as human beings when we eat the fruit of the “Tree of Knowledge” and spontaneously realize we are naked. In a phrase, we become self-aware. The most striking evidence of that self-awareness is not our modesty, however. The fig leaf is not what makes us truly unique. Our awareness of our own nudity is a symbol of our capacity for perceiving ourselves objectively – our ability to visualize ourselves from a perspective outside ourselves. Our definitive quality is our capacity to conceptualize events outside the sphere of our own momentary self-interest. We make decisions based on chains of cause-and-effect that stretches across decades – maybe centuries. No other living thing does this.
So today we face the challenge of solving what might be the definitive human riddle. We are aware that we have an impact on the environment. We are aware that our population has been growing exponentially. We are perfectly aware that no species can expand infinitely on this finite planet. With this awareness comes responsibility. We are capable of moderating our impact on the planet. We are capable of conceptualizing a sustainable human habitat and executing a plan to create that habitat. In fact, we could create a beautiful and abundant habitat built to last for millennia if we set our minds to it.
Yes, we face very complex problems. But we’ve solved complex problems before. We like solving puzzles.
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