Class 10: Warning!

December 9, 2020

We have reached the final week of teaching on the module and it seems to have flown by. John began by thanking you all for engaging with the content so well and for full attendance at every class for the first time since the module commenced!

We discussed the two addresses to the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland in 2018. The nonagenarian David Attenborough and the sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg delivered what was essentially the same message but in very different ways: each in their own distinctive style. Overall, the message, echoing the warnings from world scientists, is not positive: in fact, the prognosis for our planet is a cause for grave concern brought about by the unsustainable manner in which we have been exploiting our natural resources. The term anthropocene has been proposed by scientists to describe the geological era in which humankind’s impact has changed the planet in ways that were previously only caused by geological forces. In trying to establish when the anthropocene might have begun you proposed the atomic era, or perhaps it was as far back as the industrial revolution, or even the dawn of humankind. emck1999 shared the conclusions of a recent project in which she considered the impact of our unsustainable use of the earth’s resources, making her feel old and cynical, she said.

Nevertheless, John suggested there may well be more positive indications recently. HannahSimoneNathalie referred to the Attenborough documentary A Life on our Planet, 2020 currently showing on Netflix; in an interview with the Radio Times (and in the context of the current pandemic) he says hope may emerge ‘from the whole world having experienced a shared threat and found a sense that we are all in it together’. He speaks of ‘encouraging signs’ of an increased trust in science, adding ‘the time for nationalism is over. ‘In the end,’ Attenborough says, ‘it’s not really about saving the planet. It’s about saving ourselves …. It’s simpler than you might think, a century from now, our planet can be a wild place again.’

The second cause for hope is in the very existence of Greta Thunberg. The sense of opportunity and potential that is natural in youth, but which tends to dissipate with age, should not be dismissed. The problems facing humanity are so grievous that the older generation simply may not have the imagination nor the stamina to conceive of a solution whereas those with less ‘experience’ can approach the future with the ingenuity and determination that is a hallmark of human beings at our best. This seemed to resonate with you as a reasonable expectation, from your own experience.

The third factor in providing hope is technology itself. Often demonised as the cause of our problems technology is, in fact, somewhat neutral. The French intellectual Bernard Stiegler, who died this year, proposed that technology should be understood as a pharmakon, a Greek word that means both ‘poison’ and ‘cure’. Technology is the poison that has brought our society to its sorry state but it could also be the cure by which it may be saved. Stiegler also believed in taking practical action and established many projects to prove that there are alternative ways of developing communities and society that does not result in the destruction of our environment. This understanding of technology is surely influenced somewhat by McLuhan’s belief that ‘we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us’.

John attempted to tie together the threads of our weekly discussions suggesting that a core theme emerging is that of responsibility. Our personal responsibility was explored in the classes about McLuhan and the true nature of the ‘self’ and ‘being’. The importance of professional responsibility emerged during our discussions on blogging and community relationships. The Le Guin story about Omelas and concepts of digital citizenship considered last week, along with the discussion in this class, raised questions about communal responsibilities and the shape of our society. At the heart of all discussion on responsibility is the ethical dimension. Without an ethical framework there can be no sense of responsibility and life is forced to play out in a constant struggle for survival. The challenge for each one of us is to engage with our multiple responsibilities, consider what we can do and to play our parts with deliberation. Above all: do not simply follow the general flow of events blindly.

Before concluding the class John dispersed the princely sum of L$200 to each of you so that you can upload images and photos to SL for your presentations next week. He also warned you that the conversion rate meant this is equivalent to less than a singe US dollar. It was also agreed that the Red Team will present first with the Green Team following. John will be available if there are any issues with your projects between now and next Thursday.

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