Monday, June 29, 2009

The child in time

Abbie Garrington suggests that one impact of climate change may be to shake contemporary culture beyond postmodernism, which "created narratives in which time became uncertain...[and] we were invited to think again about the nature of storytelling". In the new regime:
narratives play with time in response to the overarching question of climate change – the priority has shifted from the storytelling itself, to the tale told, the message of the story, and the likely responses of the reader. This imagined future on the smallest scale – the future anticipated thoughts and actions of the reader of or listener to the narrative – is the point where storytelling meets activism. [1]
As has been well said, anthropogenic climate change pushes us to think about time in a very different way. This includes a challenge to adequately imagine the human place in deep time; one cannot, I think, really *get it* unless one fully digests the enormity behind phrases such as "greatest change since the PETM". [2]

A striking instance comes from Martin Brasier, who wonders whether we may be on the cusp of something as big as the Cambrian explosion. As I have noted
his hunch [is] that the perturbations in the Earth system consequent upon human activities [are] so great that 'we could be on the cusp of a Cambrian-like transformation' of life on Earth (bigger than, say, the K-T) -- though whether it [will] be a 'new Cambrian explosion' or a 'return pre-Cambrian conditions' he was not, when I asked him, inclined to speculate.
Get to this kind of scale, and a bifurcation explored by Thomas Nagel comes to mind:
From far enough outside my birth seems accidental, my life pointless, and my death insignificant, but from inside my never having been born seems nearly unimaginable, my life monstrously important, and my death catastrophic. Though the two viewpoints clearly belong to one person -- these problems wouldn’t arise if they didn’t -- they function independently enough so that each can come as something of a surprise to the other, like an identity that has been temporarily forgotten.
One of the challenges for stories tellers, activists and other change makers is to bridge that gap in ways that help provide a sense of meaning (and so may form part of the foundation for effective non-violent political organising to defeat 'planet traitors' [3]). It means, as has been well said, "finishing Darwin's sentence": coming to terms with evolution over the long term a human place in co-creation of the future. [4]

Related posts on this blog include The Holy Crap Factor, Holy Crap 2, Embers and Fear and Trembling.


[1] Garrington's post is one of several by participants in a 20 June workshop titled Changing Climate Stories. She continues:
Stories have the advantage over scientific data in this respect. While science has the analytical tools to predict the future, beyond modelling it cannot imaginatively inhabit the future it predicts. This is where stories come in.
[2] David MacKay's book (Robert Butler notes) is dedicated "to those who will not have the benefit of two billion years' accumulated energy reserves". This seems to join the long term and short term nicely in the mind (although I wonder about the reasoning behind "two billion years." Weren't the majority of fossil fuels, including methane clathrates, laid down in a shorter period just a few hundred million years ago?).

[3] Note the criticism of this rhetoric here.

[4] For Thomas Berry, an optimist:
the perspective of evolution provides the most comprehensive context for understanding the human phenomenon in relation to other life forms. This implies for Berry that we are one species among others and as self reflective beings we need to understand our particular responsibility for the continuation of the evolutionary process. We have reached a juncture where we are realizing that we will determine which life forms survive and which will become extinct. We have become co-creators as we have become conscious of our role in this extraordinary, irreversible developmental sequence of the emergence of life forms.

No comments: