Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Earth: Our Home. Our Future.

Daniel recently gave a speech at a TEDx Conference. Here's a transcript from the event; an essay entitled: 'Earth: Our Home. Our Future'.

‘There is nothing permanent except change’.

The words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus from 500BC. Six words, articulated from the dusty tracks of ancient Ephesus in Turkey, but speak volumes about an entire planet over 2000 years later.
We live in a world of such unprecedented dynamism. As we sit still, Planet Earth is spinning 67,000 miles an hour in the cosmos. This maybe some speed, but no speedometer could compute neither the pace of human development nor the velocity of our technological progress. The texture of our lives is continuously being dissolved and recomposed around us. We may view life in three dimensions, but a fourth element is always present. The element of change, exponentially catalysed around us, is fundamentally part of what it means to be human.
As a geographer, I am continuously asked what the nature of my discipline is. What does Geography mean? What does Earth mean? How inextricably complex the question remains, and yet, could it be that the planet changes so much that we cannot accurately assert a definition to its study? After all, Geography is one such discipline where the force of change is a central facet in the way we understand how the world operates.
This is not a world in stasis. From the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, from the Iron Age to the Medieval Period, perhaps what gives this world meaning is that of its capacity for change. The last century has witnessed an inexorable rate of change. Our digital revolution has bred, and continues to breed, a world of interconnection; a world where the Euclidian dimensions of distance seems to matter less and less. We have profoundly transformed the nature of the human experience, bringing distant others closer together, in a community of virtual connection. No doubt the world has become transfigured beyond the point of return; perhaps it is this that now re-defines what it means to be in existence on Earth.
Whilst Human Geographers seek to comprehend the nature of our globalisation, down the other end of the department corridor is a congregation of Physical Geographers who are studying another change. A critical issue; a demanding contemporary crisis; a quandary for us all. That of Climate Change. Shadowing the positivity of our digitalisation and technological innovation, the tentacles of Global Warming are encroaching part of what it means to be living on Planet Earth in the 21st century. In short, after so many thousands of years of changing- after centuries of fine-tuning our traditions and methods- we have still not reached utopia.
Global Interconnection and Global Warming. There is a great dichotomy here; the former reflects on man’s faculty over the world, our ceaseless endeavour for human betterment, whilst the latter reminds us that we are still at the mercy of Mother Nature. We have the means by which to travel the world, and although we might fly, a footprint mutilates the globe- a Carbon Footprint. Similarly, the mobile phone has almost become part of our own anatomy-shamefully, there always seems to be one in my hand- but it is a device which depletes our non-renewable resources.
Despite the clear associations between our simultaneity and the pressing matter of climate change, however, the academic establishment continues to atomise these discourses. Although it could be argued that Global Warming seeps into all of the aspects of what is a fractured discipline; global interconnection is clearly a criterion for a Human Geographer’s agenda. I think that this, most significantly of all, is where the error lies. The most effective catalyst for changing the course of Global Warming would be to solder these two discourses. To retard the development of climate change, we should be searching for a more profound resolution.  I propose a unique perspective; a unique resolution to Climate Change.
After all, the conventional approaches do not seem to be effective catalysts for change. Using public transport, car sharing, recycling, purchasing eco-friendly light-bulbs; these are small scale adjustments we make in our daily lives to hinder the warming of our world. But as Paul Stern, from the National Research Council once wrote, “the environmental impact of any individual’s personal behaviour is small.  Such individual behaviours have environmentally significant impact only in the aggregate, when many people independently do the same things.”
But why, if these grass-root approaches are so small in scale, aren’t they adopted by enough people in which to make them, as Stern put, “environmentally significant”? Stern goes on to hypothesise possible reasons; that “environmental impact has largely been a by-product of human desires” – such as comfort, enjoyment, power, status, and mobility. I would go further.
The split with nature is at the heart of an environmental crisis. My most cardinal point would be to state that I think a wave of technological innovation, interconnection and the rise of the internet culture, has disconnected humans from the world. By inhabiting a cyber-fuelled, virtual reality, we have lost the values we once upheld for nature. In short, the human race has disconnected with the landscape, and connected with the Wi-Fi instead.  
The green and pleasant land seems to be no longer a place which provokes awe and wonder, but instead, exasperation due to their poor network signals. The landscape, once encapsulated in paintings and poems, is relegated to the background of a ‘selfie’. As the public domain get access to satellite maps, the conception of true wilderness is a questionable notion; the ability to set out and enjoy pure exploration is less likely in the age of navigation systems.
Influential ecologist Aldo Leopold believes we abuse the land because we regard it as a “commodity belonging to us” not one “to which we belong”. If we are to effectively catalyse a hindrance to Global Warming, approaching those profound questions of our connectedness to nature is paramount.
Addressing Global Warming very rarely goes as far as to consider these rather abstract points, but I would argue that encouraging the public to seek a more ecologically friendly way of life will yield little impact unless the public feel a moral obligation to protect their own planet. To use the words of Mayer and Frantz: “unless they feel a sense of kinship with it; unless they view themselves as belonging to the natural world and view their welfare as related to the welfare of the Earth.”
Our connectedness to nature is something that has been studied in other disciplines. According to health experts, spending leisure time in natural environments is beneficial for human health and well-being. I would go on to suggest that an individual’s well-being is just one of the many factors which influences them to protect the world in which they inhabit.
This is not a call to demolish the platforms of communication we have set up. Indeed, the internet is a valuable asset in delivering a message about the global problems we share. What I would assert is that we re-ignite our zest for exploration; that we re-ignite our zeal for discovery; that we make Planet Earth a compelling environment for young people to discover, rather than let them become entangled within the addictive web of the social network, for in that web, their connection with true nature can never be fostered.
Can this work? Can such a profound shift in our emotional affinity toward nature truly be an effective catalyst? It’s a fresh, new angle, and requires much more research. But I would agree with Mayer and Frantz that feeling connected to nature and eco-friendly acts have a bi-directional relationship. Feeling connected to the landscape will encourage a certain act of stewardship for it, and in turn, proliferate their connection with nature.
This bi-directional relationship has been studied, in some senses, only this year. In a paper published this summer, a group of interviewed farmers felt that if they are more capable of conserving nature on their farm, the more they see themselves as connected to nature. In turn, the more they feel connected to nature, the more likely they are to commit to conservation. 
I conclude with the wisdom of Henry Thoreau and in some ways it encapsulates what I believe to be my own philosophy on the world. “This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.”
Perhaps, more than ever, we need to stop living on the planet, and start living with it.


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