We hear much about alarmist doomsayers predicting the end of the world, but the climate-energy crisis is something we should feel positive about. [7 June 2011 | Peter Boyer]
Here we are in the Hundred Acre Wood, sheltered at last from the furious wind, while Piglet listens nervously to the roaring of the gale in the tree-tops.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh, after careful thought.
Negative and positive, careful and carefree, future anxiety and presence of mind, the worrier and the bon vivant — all are captured with perfect clarity and economy by A.A. Milne in this brief exchange between a humble bear and his best friend.
I think of this timeless conversation when I ponder how I got involved in the climate-energy debate. I was motivated by a concern that things weren’t right with our present world, which would seem to align me with Piglet, the worrier.
There’s plenty to be concerned about. We’re fouling our land, waterways and oceans, extinguishing species by destroying their natural habitat, plundering our planet’s store of fossilised carbon, burning the carbon and destabilising our climate. Why wouldn’t anyone start worrying?
We tend to see such states of mind in terms of pessimism and optimism. A pessimist, we say, sees the glass as half empty, while to an optimist it’s half full. Two people seeing the same thing in radically different ways.
The Piglets of this world will always see a half-empty glass; the Poohs a half-full one. People are predisposed, it seems — by genes, or past experience, or whatever — to a particular perspective. We see what we’ve prepared ourselves to see.
I can’t deny the Piglet in me, but oddly enough I’ve always felt that Pooh was the one who had it right. For all my sounding off about our stuff-ups, I don’t feel bad about the world.
I’m cheered by lots of things. For a start, it’s a privilege to be living in this island we call Tasmania. Every day I delight in the endless variety of its natural attractions (including its weather), in its settled places, and in the people who make up my community. Of such is the kingdom of heaven.
From these people and countless others around the world, I draw strength and pleasure from being part of humanity. In writing about climate and energy I have made much of our mistakes, but I could equally wax lyrical about the things we’ve done right, our achievements.
We humans have been on this planet around 100,000 years (maybe more than that, depending on when our species evolved into its present form). In that time we’ve learned how to use tools to defend ourselves against larger animals, and how to manage animals and cultivate plants for food.
We’ve developed social systems that are themselves natural wonders, housed in cities, towns and villages across the globe. We’ve created sophisticated aural and visual communication systems, and marvellous art in an endless multitude of forms, still and dynamic, visual, aural, textual.
Our insatiable curiosity has led us to ponder our situation — the land we walk on, the oceans, the air swirling around us, the sun and the moon and the points of light in the night sky, the life forms with which we share our planet, and so on, ad infinitum. Alone among Earth’s species, we are able to look back in time, and forward to our own death and beyond.
We’ve created means of travelling across our planet and into space, of sending sounds and images across vast distances, of calculating things beyond the capacity of individual brains, like how our planet evolved, how it works, and the make-up of our universe.
A large number of us now have the great good luck to be able to enjoy our lives, and the company of those we love, in relative security and peace. While not discounting the wealth imbalances that make this possible, and accepting that it may not last, such fortune is still something to celebrate. From where I sit, every day is a blessing.
I mentioned humans’ unique capacity to discern the bigger picture, and to look ahead in time. I’m conscious that many will feel that if looking farther afield produces bad news, it’s better to pull back and concentrate on things closer to home. But to me that wider view is another blessing.
We now understand how our domination of the planet doesn’t necessarily produce good outcomes, for us or other species, but we also know we have the means to modify how we live our lives so that the biological systems on which we depend can themselves survive and thrive. To me, that’s a challenge that we should value. Another of life’s rewards.
It’s admittedly a big challenge, and certainly unprecedented, but as one of those seven billion dominant humans I don’t think such a challenge is beyond us. I fail to see why we shouldn’t accept it and run with it, to see where it takes us.
Some, it seems, are fearful of this challenge. “Supposing,” they say, “we finish up going broke trying to fix it.” As Pooh would say, “Supposing we don’t.”