A sobering slap in the face at the Royal Court Theatre with Stephen Emmott. As a scientist with a diverse authority on pretty much every scientific concern examine the state of our planet today. (might be slight over exaggeration but the non-scientist in me understood the scope of his overview). This performance was basically a scripted lecture similar to those I see at University. The difference is of course that it is at a theatre, to a fee-paying audience, repeated for the run of the show (all sold out), and presented in a more intimate setting. The replica of Professor Emmott’s lab office reinforced the paradox between the knowing and the sharing of information. As all attendees had voted with their money for this presentation, and none walked out, we can assume that everyone was interested and listened. Being in a mixed audience, rather than an audience made up of UAL students was also different, as I could no longer assume to know the general take my fellow members might have on the evening.
This was basically the cold, hard truth of what the current state of the planet means for us humans. Facts, straight from the horses’ mouth. Pretty bleak predictions, stark suggestions of actions possible, despairing assessment of likelihood of taking action, and a final bit of advice to ‘teach your son to use a gun’ left a bad taste in the mouth. This was absolutely the point. Professor Emmott gave this example (I paraphrase):
If an asteroid was predicted to hit the earth at a set date, the world would leap into action, half the resources being directed at trying to avert the catastrophe, half directed at working out how anyone could survive after the event. The presence of the human race on the planet IS an asteroid, we just don’t have the date yet, so no urgency is being felt by any of us to take action.
The examples of fossil fuels makes most sense to me “Using fossil fuels is essentially re-releasing 100billion year old sunlight into our world. We are turning it back into the dinosaur world, and humans will go the same way as they did”. This is frightening news for the future of humans, but part of me wonders if the world would really mind if we did disappear. Probably not. So the issue here is of fear of pain and suffering, and the pain and suffering of our children, which, as humans, we are pretty rubbish at imagining powerfully enough to spur us into action.
I suppose that to me he was preaching to the converted, but I’d like to think that some of the others in the room with us last night heard what he was saying, and I am heartened that the whole run is sold out. The conversation has to start somewhere, everywhere. Organisations like Cape Farewell have been working on starting this conversation in the context of the arts. Hopefully Professor Emmott will now be starting this conversation to an even wider audience.