CIW Board Member Peter Fiekowsky is the founder of the Healthy Climate Alliance and a voice for possibility and action in a world going off the tracks. As an accomplished physicist, entrepreneur, and expert in language and brain science, he is developing pathways to achieve futures that humanity wants. His current project is giving our children a healthy climate, which he says can be accomplished by 2050.
At CIW, we know that for a bold vision like this we need to shift the collective consciousness. We need to evolve not only individually but as a culture. We need to evolve not only at the surface but at the deepest level possible (what we call the source code).
That’s why we are excited to announce this new blog-series by Peter Fiekowsky, where he links his scientific perspective with the discussion of memes and distinctions we are so passionate about at the Center.
Here is the first post in his series called Humanity Inventing Its Future:
Are Religion and Art Critical to Restoring the Climate?
“Would we have a better chance of giving our children a healthy climate if we set a goal of doing that?”
I have asked that question dozens of times, and have never gotten a “Yes”. I have also never gotten a “No”. I get stunned silence every time.
Scientists then respond, “It’s too expensive”, while economists say, “It’s impossible.” And then they stop. They implicitly agree that we have an obligation to give our children a healthy planet, and then they absolve themselves by saying it’s too expensive or just impossible. I would say that too–wouldn’t you?
I’m an MIT educated physicist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur with 27 patents. I did the calculations, and then confirmed them with all the top climate scientists I could find. In addition to shifting to clean energy, we need to remove a trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, and that’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable.
Yet it turns out that we can clean up the atmosphere and restore the climate by 2050 at an annual cost of less than half of global military spending. It took me four years to figure that out the hard way. We don’t have four years left for others to figure it out, so how will we shift the thinking on this and get into action cleaning up the atmosphere?
There are two things required, and we’re not doing them yet. Neither is technical. The first thing is moral. People need to be reminded by their moral leaders that they have an obligation to give their children the same climate that they were given, and they must be reminded that not-yet-knowing-how does not absolve them of their moral duty.
The second thing is art, storytelling, narrative. Stories are the catalysts for action. People wonder how science fiction so often predicts the future–and the answer is that fiction is the scaffolding on which we create the future. Fiction and myth provide the narrative that we riff on, modify, and improve on.
For years I told the moonshot story in which President Kennedy declared that we would land a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade. It was difficult in 1961 and, as Kennedy said, that is why we did it. My listeners agreed that we should similarly restore the climate, but they were not inspired into action. Eventually I realized that although I could tell them, as a physicist, how we could do it, my narrative was intellectual, not emotional, not moving.
Kennedy got help from Jules Verne, who in 1865, wrote a beautiful and popular novel about going to the moon, which was turned into a successful movie. When Kennedy proposed that adventure a hundred years later, the narrative for doing it was already alive in our cultural history, and the action took off like a proverbial rocket.
The narrative does not need to be realistic in order to activate our creative thinking. Bible stories show that, and Jules Verne does too. He shot us out of a canon, clear up to the moon. That was impossible without a doubt, yet it left us with an emotional narrative of going to the moon, which story we later realized in just eight years.
What cost is too expensive to provide a safe planet for our grandchildren? The US spent 40% of GDP to win WWII. Dr. James Hansen said in 2008 that it would cost 1% of GDP to remove our excess CO2 in 30 years, and with improved technology it may be less now.
It’s up to our religious leaders to remind us that we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren. As adults, not knowing how to do it does not absolve us from that obligation.
It’s up to our artists and storytellers to be today’s Jules Vernes, and produce emotional narratives that our technologists will riff on, and create the solutions that will save the planet.
To our religious and artistic leaders: You have a moral obligation to remind your people that they each have a critical part to play in giving a healthy climate to our children.