We are living in a time like no other in human history.
The environmental decisions we make today and in the next few years will determine our planet’s climate stability and the direction of human destiny for centuries to come.
Perhaps everyone alive at any given moment in the past has thought that they were living at the centre of history. This is not quite true. History changes in irregular pulses, something we know in retrospect by analyzing the unfolding events over centuries and millennia.
Today, we live in a pulse of extraordinary intensity. The rate of change — demographically, technologically, culturally, environmentally — is so fast that yesterday almost seems historical. Consequently, each moment becomes pivotal, each decision significant, and each act amplified in importance.
We are compelled to such a conclusion by reviewing a globalizing culture that has sped up to a frenzied crescendo, as if everything has accelerated to match the blurring speed of the electron. Human population has been undergoing an unprecedented explosion. Our greenhouse gas emissions are invoking climate alterations that have not occurred for millions of years. Species are dying in the sixth major extinction in our planet’s history. Our oceans are warming, acidifying and rising. And all this is caused by human activity, by the decisions we are making and by the things we are doing. It’s exciting, even exhilarating. But it’s also extremely dangerous.
We need to ponder this, and to confront what it means for each of us. Perhaps the first conclusion to suggest itself is that each moment is imbued with a significance that makes us culpable in ways that we have never been before. And history will consequently judge what we have done or did not do, both individually and collectively.
So the critical circumstances in which we find ourselves vests each of us with a responsibility that has escaped most others in history. While we will each be judged by our acts of commission or omission, the ones among us who are most obviously responsible will be our political leaders. They will be judged as no others. In such a pivotal point in human history, we have given them the duty to function with the principled and visionary perspectives that will guide us safely through this precarious time.
The prime criteria for judgment will be the way in which our leaders address our planet’s environment, probably the most critical element in determining whether the edifice we call civilization functions smoothly or fractures into disarray from ecological stresses.
Is this a simplification of our challenges? Perhaps. But simplifications are the condensations of complexities that enable us to discern a sense of direction and devise meaningful action. Without simplifications we get lost in a confusing array of conflicting, disparate and distracting details.
When we are able to review our history from the perspective of some distant and unspecified future, our present and past leaders will be noted for whether they led us toward or away from the environmental dangers now unfolding around us.
This is how they will be judged. And it will be how we will each be judged.