It’s been a decade since Brian and I were at The Grill. Now it’s closed. Grill was a downtown favorite of Tucsonans. I ordered a great burger with a Full Sail from the tap. My friend and I talked about the impossible future of our world. Like we’re the only ones, right? He an environmental mediator. I an environmental educator. We mourned the insurmountable list of environmental and social issues we faced. We still face. Overshadowing all else, climate change seemed likely to doom our entire species.
I had heard an interview with James Lovelock. Lovelock is a British scientist who came up with the “Gaia Hypothesis.” Earth is a self-sustaining system, capable of healing itself, regardless of human survival. His interview at that time was especially disconcerting. He said climate change was already irrevocable, science corrupt, and human interventions hopeless.
Brian’s a Buddhist. I’m Taoist. We both struggled to find any zen in so much faithlessness.
Are you familiar with Arthur C. Clarke’s 3 Laws of Prediction? The first…
A distinguished, older scientist stating what is possible is most likely right. A distinguished, older scientist stating what is impossible is most likely wrong.
How does this reflect on Lovelock’s foreboding? Well, irrevocable, corrupt, and hopeless make survival seem pretty impossible. So was this old Lovelock scientist wrong? In a more recent interview, he admits as much. “I’ve grown up a bit since then,” he says.
Clarke’s second law…
The only way of testing what’s possible is to venture into the impossible.
Does this mean we can engineer our way out of this? We weren’t able to do so when we had time to act; why would we be able to do so when it’s too late? Emperors, revolutionaries, and messiahs have fought over our existence since we evolved. Today it’s Trump. Only 17,000 years ago it was some other orange haired neanderthal with small hands.
This was the torment Brian and I shared in Grill those years ago. The future seems impossible. But as Clarke suggested, the only way to prove or disprove that is to engage it. Instead of accepting what seems so impossible, let us have hope.
Which leads us to his third law…
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
In Lovelock’s older interview, he was smiling in the face of the hopelessness he described. He said, “That’s because I believe you enjoy it while you can. …It’s been an incredibly beautiful world.”
He reminds me of a Taoist master. Both saw “effortless scattering of change, …billows and waves of history flowing away.” And both…
realized that he hadn’t even begun to understand Tao, so he returned home and didn’t leave for three years. He cooked for his wife and fed the pigs as though he were feeding people. Human pursuits meant nothing to him. He whittled and polished himself back to utter simplicity: a body standing alone like a clump of earth. Taking this refuge in the midst of all confusion, he kept himself whole to the end.
So what to do with no faith in the future? Realize we have not yet seen it through. Lovelock now says, “Anyone who tries to predict more than five to 10 years is a bit of an idiot because so many things can change unexpectedly.”
Instead, let us have hope. For the here and now. In those people and places we love. Above Grill a sign read, “Open later than you think.” Maybe our future is as well. To paraphrase Clarke, that brand of hope is indistinguishable from magic.