This talk begins with a worldly parable, ends with an earthly one, and touches on several ecological truths along the path between. Where have we come to? How did we get here? Where might we go? These are the pressing questions of our time.
It is tempting to hold such questions apart, to leave the past to the historians, the present to the experts and activists, the future to the speculators. But this worldly parceling is fundamentally flawed, not least because it mimics the fundamentally flawed linear logic that has brought about the earthly impasse we face.
To separate past from present and present from future does subtle violence to the social and ecological realities of our time. And what are these? That the bits and pieces of the worldly crisis amount to a crisis of the whole Earth; that the singular opportunities of a waning geological epoch have ended, and a universally challenging new epoch has begun; that everything has changed and everything is changing and everything will continue to change in complex and unpredictable ways for centuries to come, and perhaps for millennia; that all of this is the result of the peculiar manner of world-making of a small handful of members of a singular species of earthling that named itself Homo sapiens, the “wise human.”
If we are to get to the far side of this conjuncture with a flourishing Earth and worlds worth living in, if we are to preserve the prospects for a future worth wanting for the whole Earth community, we must learn to see the great questions of our time together and whole. We must learn to think and feel the past, present, and future of the world as three dimensions of a singular question about what it means to live ecologically in the living Earth. It’s not so hard as it seems.
Matthew C. Ally was supposed to be an ecologist. During the same semester in which he took a required core course in “Temperate Forest Ecosystems,” he took an elective philosophy course called “Tyranny and Freedom.” The rest is history. What interests him more than anything are the forms of socially and ecologically oriented engagement and activism, real, possible, and imagined. His book, Ecology and Existence: Bringing Sartre to the Water’s Edge, was published last year. He is working on a new book on these themes, geared to a non-specialist audience, and tentatively titled Earthbound: The Ecology of Everyday Life.