I’m wildly excited about two books, one coming out this month the other next year – both are radical insights about what environmental change means for the human relationship to the planet. One is Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and the other is Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought.
What I find so vital in their work is that they are strongly against the misanthropy that seems to underpin much of the dominant narrative around the environmental movement. To my mind, the idea that humans are stupid, indifferent and deliberately destructive is not only an inadequate account of human nature it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking because it is debilitating at every level. At a time when we most need compassion and creative thinking the very sentiments that block these – pervasive cynicism and conservatism – are prevalent. (I’ve used too many words beginning with ‘c’ in that sentence, I’ll move onto the letter ‘R’ for a while).
What roots the rigorous accounts given by ecological experts such as Brand and Morton is that people are hugely capable of complex thinking, adaptive living, resilience and resourcefulness. We have created this situation of environmental change so now we must rise to challenge of transforming how we think and behave in response to it. And when I read documents like Peter Head’s Entering an Ecological Age, and see speakers at the RSA like Graciela Chichilnisky, not only do these extraordinary changes feel crucial they appear do-able.
Drawing on Brand, Head and Morton, I have written a short essay for the Copenhagen exhibition RETHINK: Contemporary Art & Climate Change.
Here’s a bit of it: Art and ideas are not timeless, they are historically specific. The uneasy realisation of our current situation is that we are part of an ecological system that we influence more than we previously thought was possible. We are not outside observers, we are participants; we engage and affect systems whether we intend to or not. … we are the co-creators of our environment. Yet we do not yet fully recognise ourselves as such. This is a revelation awaiting to be fully explored through the arts.
It is the beginning of some work I’m developing for the Arts and Ecology Centre on what the arts may contribute in moving us towards an ecological age. Some of the ideas are controversial. And as part of this, writer Josie Appleton has been commissioned to write an essay for this website, as her work sets out to explore fresh thinking about human capability.The Challenge of Climate Change: Towards a New Human Consciousness – is a ‘thought experiment’, as she says in her blog – so comments are welcome.