Albert Einstein was worried in 1939. His good friend Leo Szilard and a handful of other physicists, urged him to write a letter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt warning him that the Germans were likely working on the atomic bomb. Einstein wrote the letter. But letting the atomic genie out of the bottle was a humanitarian regret for him for the rest of his life.
Even if dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war, it also unleashed forever the potential of human beings to destroy themselves and their planet. Einstein died before the true costs (over twenty trillion in dollars and immeasurable in other factors) of nuclear power and weapons was known. When people have mastered clear ways to avoid accidents and deal with toxic waste, even nuclear power can be an advantage, but for now tried and true alternatives are more realistic.
Since Einstein's death, the threat of planetary destruction due to climate change has increased dramatically. At present, the human deaths alone attributed to climate change are approximately 300,000 per year. Science and technology made energy, and therefore mass production of goods, commonplace. For awhile, before the shortages began, life looked as though infinite prosperity through infinite resources was possible. That more impoverished and enslaved people now exist than ever before was not an outcome of hoped for progress, but a cruel and unplanned consequence. Unleashing tons of carbon each year, increasing agriculture and ranching that release methane and lost bio-diversity has untold costs that continue to mount each day.
A few of the outcomes of unplanned science breakthroughs include every nuclear or chemical, mining or refining explosion. They include every oil spill, every armed conflict, every carcinogenic toxin, every drug overdose and each extinction at the hands of man. For these sins Earth suffers. When Earth hurts so too, do Earth’s inhabitants. The human relationship with the planet is injured.
It is quite understandable why so many even now are in denial of a warming planet. Put simply, people did not intend such harm and they are incapable of seeing themselves in such a negative light. They do not see their habits as “evil” and so cannot see even the destruction of their own emotional, mental and physical relationships with the rest of the biosphere. Everyone loves nature. They do not realize that making better choices is actually liberating and empowering to them. Although a person can easily scapegoat and blame “Big Oil, Big Pharma, or Big Chemistry” for disasters, they are less likely to comprehend their own addiction to convenience, lattes, electronics and fashion as major culprits. All of these things have been promised to each person beginning with a barrage of social conditioning toward mass consumption since the day each is born.
For science and technology to serve humanity, and therefore the planet, requires that it be approached with humility. Einstein fundamentally understood this. Arrogant seekers of corporate and political power cannot understand it. Thus they will continue to approach “progress and development” with the wrong attitude about what it is for and why it should be pursued. In short, those advances that encourage exploitation of resources, people or power will fail to fulfill the brightest dreams of science. Those that encourage cooperation and protection for all Eco-systems and all populations will thrive.
Scientists who are not paid for their bias understand this. They realize that protecting that which sustains life and bio-diversity is what allows all interactive systems to endure. Science and technology are the very tools that will also serve to save humanity from past shortsightedness. It is now understood that the communications revolution can allow people to share every new insight and innovation worldwide. It is also evident that power, energy and agriculture do not have to be destructive, but can even be clean, green and empowering for social fairness as well as a thriving economy. Like going to the moon, this is challenging, but unlike going to the moon, it is absolutely imperative, if only for the sanity of humanity.
Einstein advised that when we look into nature we can understand everything better. He knew that science, used intelligently, seeks out the very intelligence of nature’s law itself. He knew that to be humble before nature is the only way to optimize a quality life for a world that must be viewed with integrity for integrity to flourish.