Whether we realize it or not, everyone living on planet Earth today is caught in what I have come to call the “carbon trap”. The nature of the trap is simple, and can be described in one sentence:
Our continued existence depends on the very thing that is killing us – the combustion of our planet’s ancient stocks of carbon.
This unfortunate situation was not intentional, and is no one’s fault.
The trap was constructed well outside of our conscious view or understanding.
Its design came from our evolved desires for status, material comfort and security.
We recognized its seductive promise long before we knew enough science to discover its hidden hook.
It was built with the best of intentions by well-meaning scientists and engineers, whose knowledge of the consequences was both incomplete and clouded by their own evolved desire for a better life.
Most of us, even those who are aware of our predicament, distract ourselves by creating and admiring elaborate and luxurious appointments for our carbon-clad prison.
Many who can see the bars spend their time dreaming of ways to slip through them into the world outside – a world that they can see but never reach.
Those who are fully aware of the trap also understand that we now need it to survive; that leaving it (if that were even possible) would be as fatal as staying inside. We are victims of what complex systems scientists call “path dependence” – where we came from and how we got here puts strict limits on what is now possible for us to do.
One of the things we can’t do is simply open the door and leave. Even the fact that our carbon-barred prison is now on fire can’t change the cold equations. We are condemned to wait here until the walls burn down, when a few soot-blackened survivors may stumble out into the blasted and barren landscape left behind by our self-absorbed construction project.
This is why I believe that the one quality most needed in the world today is compassion.