October 5, 2020

Our culture is beset by two untenable attitudes toward questions of conservation and climate change. One sees the planet’s problems as simply less important than our own, or not even real. It tells us, more or less, that there is nothing to see. The other is drenched in a despair that leads to loathing for the human presence on the planet, to paralysis over ever stopping the apparent end of the world. It tells us, in effect, that there is nothing left to do.

The New Atlantis aims to steer between these alternatives, toward the view that the natural world needs preserving, in part for its practical and aesthetic value to us, and in part for its intrinsic worth. But we believe that our species can do so best not by brooding penitentially on our transgressions but by harnessing our noblest abilities, and living lives distinctly ours. Taking better care means encouraging breakthroughs in technologies like clean energy and carbon capture that ameliorate the harmful side effects of intrinsically laudable human activity. It also means helping our politics break the stalemates on these issues by allowing for more fruitful conflict over them.

Taking care means continuing to debate what our rightful relationship to the natural world should be: Should we be masters of nature? If so, what responsibilities does this entail? Or is the good life for us and our communities not one of mastery over nature but humility before it? Leaving a better earth for our children requires finding better forms of debate now — forms less beset by a suspicion of conservation, a loathing for human life, or an insistence that fundamental questions about the good of civilization and the natural world can be settled by science alone.