The end of a year is always a pensive time. We look back, we look forward. We make promises to ourselves and to others. We renew our optimism, justifiably or not, and we convince ourselves that this will be the year. The cyclical renewal of our faith in possibility is, in fact, the very thing that creates possibility. But sometimes we turn the page without comprehending the one we’ve just written. The past hundred eighty years or so has seen the pace of our composition quicken, the time allotted for reflection diminish. Speeding may move us rapidly from point A to point B, but it reduces our ability to turn, to brake. Our vision tunnels and the landscape blurs. The odds of a collision multiply.
I’ll openly admit I’m terrified of the future we’re creating, mostly because we seem unwilling to see the (endangered) forest for the (engineered) trees. We bask in the glow of our technological genius, and rightfully so. We have accomplished much. But we fail to notice the flames engulfing the lab. Global poverty is greater now than at any point in history. Nearly 30 million people are enslaved, more than at any point in history. An estimated 27,000 species are lost to extinction each year in tropical forests alone, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of all the plant and animal species on earth likely to join them before the end of this century, nearly all due to loss of habitat. Compare this to the average pre-industrial annual extinction rate of 10-100 species. Something is very wrong, and that something is us.
I’m not interested in flagellating my species. Punishment is pointless, absolution unattainable. I want us to wake up. I want us to pull our eyes away from our computer and television screens, our iPhones, our microscopes, to not only look but to see the world as it was, as it is, and as it is becoming. I want us to consider what recess might be like for our grandchildren. What games will they play? Will they draw gorillas alongside brontosaurs in archival jungles? Will they ask us, like the boy in The Road, to tell them stories of the good guys? Will they even bother to carry the flame?