I’ve been thinking about the role for the arts and humanities in relation to environmental concerns. Now, obviously, what we know, or think we know, about the situation and the human relation to the environment, human impact on the environment, is deeply, deeply indebted to scientific work. Lots of good work by biologists, physicists, geophysicists, all the rest.
It may seem puzzling to say, there’s a place in this for the arts and humanities. Well, here’s the thing. We want our public policy… We want our own lives to be really aligned with what’s workable and good in relation to the physical systems that support us. How we live our lives, what we do, what we choose to value, that’s just a way of saying these are the things that are meaningful to us. Science, for good or ill, is not by itself all that meaningful to most people. It’s not understandable. It needs to be interpreted. It needs to be translated. It needs to be put in the context of the broader society.
When we’re setting our priorities, we need to make sure that they align with what we know of the physical support systems of the earth. That’s a matter of scientific discovery. But scientific discovery won’t tell us of the remaining options. What are the most meaningful to me? What are the ones we should pursue? What are the ones we should emphasize as a society now, to be carried forward into the future? There’s a tremendous need and opportunity for the arts and humanities to translate and adapt the knowledge that we have of the physical systems of the world into meaningful human contexts.