Sustainability and the Need for a Copernicus Moment

A friend of mine posted a video on her Facebook page yesterday that I noticed was one I used last fall semester in my oceanography class when I talk about issues of sustainability. It is a Coldplay song done by Willie Nelson that gets at the heart of what I think needs to happen in the world.  Folks tell me that you cannot scare people into doing the right thing and become more sustainably oriented.  I agree whole-heartedly.  I think what has to happen is people need to be shown a new vision of the future where life is much better than what they have right now – where they turn to a more sustainable lifestyle.  A related saying is that Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech was not I Have a Nightmare, but rather  I Have a Dream.  This music video gets to this point nicely.  Hope you enjoy the music.

For a more academic take on the issue of sustainability and the need for change, I highly recommend you listen to this second clip containing a very insightful discussion by  Dr. Paul Raskin from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  Late in his discussion Prof. Raskin discusses the need for nations to come together and have a “Copernicus Moment“.  The Copernicus Moment analogy brings up two important points.  First, many people today wrongly think that humans are exempt from the law of nature and that we can continue to abuse nature forever and nothing bad will ever happen to humans because we are not a part of nature.  Back in Copernicus’s day people thought the earth was the center of the universe and everything in the sky revolved around the earth for our pleasure/benefit.  It was as if everyone thought that earth (i.e., humanity) was exempt from the rest of the universe and that the universe was there just for humans who sat at its center.  Copernicus (with Galileo later) changed that and made people realize that earth is not the center of the universe, but rather just an ordinary rock revolving around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy.  So, we now need to take things one step further and see that we are not special organisms on earth that are exempt from all other organisms, but that we are only one part of the WHOLE living system of organisms and we need to care for the WHOLE system for our own sake – and for our own survival.   Second, I think Prof. Raskin’s use of  the term Copernicus Moment  was also meant to convey a note of hope.  Today is seems like an almost impossible task to get all the people on the planet onboard with the idea that we need to start living more sustainable lives.  However, the same sort of thing must have seemed equally impossible when Copernicus attempted to get everyone onboard with the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe!   So…. if Copernicus (and others) could do it, it seems reasonable to expect that someone today (and others – including YOU) can accomplish the same thing and get all of humanity to see that humans as just one single part of a much-much bigger living SYSTEM of organisms.  Anyway, I think Prof. Raskin can say it much better than me.  Here is the clip.


UPDATE:  For a nice interview with Juliet Schor (the author of True Wealth) on this same issue of re-imagining a better way of living in this world by changing our culture of consumption, click HERE.

— Bruce

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About Bruce Monger

Bruce Monger is the principal blog author and blog administrator. He is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University. Part of his responsibilities involves teaching an oceanography class that introduces students to the beauty of the ocean and to current threats faced by the ocean. An important element of the course is to explain how to change things for the better with actions that include, among other things, making eco-friendly food choices and making your opinion about ocean conservation heard by congress.