Our Legacy – A Human Story

Our Legacy – A Human Story

When considering climate change and the many-sided arguments that accompany it, one must turn to the core of human values to define our ultimate goals. It has been addressed in every way possible; through art, film, documentary, short film, petitions, lobbying, lawmaking, media, social media, news – both print and television, even humorous cartoons. It is certainly not a lack of information that is the problem. It must be the way the message is delivered. It has been spoken about by everyone in every kind of language from scientific, sociological, medical, legal, philosophical, and moral to the day to day practical expressed in plain old everyday English. Every type of person in every kind of setting from the highest court to the most respected of academia to the town square has been addressed. But what of the foundation? What does everyone want at their core? To be remembered.

CERN Interior

The Higgs Boson particle, a subatomic particle theorized in 1964 and discovered in 2013, is a legacy particle. It flashed into existence for less than a billionth of a trillionth of a second then changed into other particles due to its rapid disintegration.  The only reason it was able to be detected was because scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland were able to measure changes via the particles it became. Had there not been any perceivable shift in its surrounding environment, they would not have known it had ever been there.

The only legacy we all leave behind is the effect we have on others, the changes we create in them by interacting with them, and thus the world. Without these changes, we would not be. The ripple effect of our presence lives on in all to whom we have been close.

This is the purpose of art. It marks time, speaks of when and where we were, how we saw it, what we did, what we didn’t do. Positive and negative actions are of equal weight when marking time and influence. Olafur Eliasson speaks of results in terms of consequences, action and reaction; positive and negative space – actions taken and actions not taken all have consequences – often the latter ends in regret, remorse, self-loathing, and at worst, nothing. At the end of his TED talk he says “This is all I have.” It’s more than enough to fill the coffers of personal and professional curiosity and goad one into action – even if only in personal reflection.

Olafur Eliasson and his solar light Little Sun
David Hume, Scotland’s preeminent philosopher among other incarnations, speaks to these core values from the inside out. As discussed by Arthur Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World):

“Hume quietly pointed out that human beings are not, and never have been, governed by their rational capacities. Reason’s role is purely instrumental: it teaches us how to get what we want. What we want is determined by our emotions, our passions – anger, lust, fear, grief, envy, but also joy, love of fame, love of contentedness, and paradoxically, our desire to live according to rational principles.”

The basic tenant that he speaks of is self interest. We avoid that which is uncomfortable in lieu of what is familiar and easiest, which due to its inherent nature does not equate the effect with the cause. It simply is. “The overriding guiding force in all our actions is not our reason, or our sense of obligation toward others, or any innate moral sense – but the most basic human passion of all, the desire for self-gratification.”

David Hume’s Home Edinburgh, Scotland

CRED (Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University) says we need to speak to people’s self interest, find the common denominator that moves them. Now that we know that the common denominator is actually self interest, and this is the basis for all decision making, then climate change arguments are included. It’s a vicious circle of selfishness that should by all accounts end in self preservation at the very least.

For all intents and purposes, if the phrase is taken literally, would end in this current generation succeeding at its greatest accomplishment so far – changing the course of history to include reversal of climate change and the development of a way of thinking that supports the health of the earth without sacrificing expansion and growth. Johan Rockstrom believes this to be a possible outcome using our current tools within our current planetary boundaries.

“The planetary boundary research liberates us from limits to growth in a decisive way,” Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, explains in his TED Talk, “It says, ‘here is a safe operating space where we can have unlimited growth.’” True, the existence of the climate boundary means that developed nations must slash their carbon emissions to near zero in just a few decades. “But there is nothing to hinder solar and wind power and higher efficiency,” Rockström says. “The world economy can grow even in a decarbonized space.”

Some remain that humans are meant to adapt and change to survive. However, why take the risk? What we are living through right now is as unprecedented as it is unnatural, making the survivability of it as uncertain as the unpredictability of the climate change itself. Highlighting already documented changes due to chemical saturation, deforestation and ozone depletion and the already documented effects thereof, support of making it any worse is counter intuitive to our fundamental needs, which, again, is our inherent self interest that starts with clean air, water, and food, and expands to include personal comfort and basic safety. That is reason enough to take on the challenge of maintaining our planet in its current state. It will be our legacy.


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