According to David Orr, one of the country’s most astute thinkers about the ecological and the cultural, “We live now in the defining moment of our species that will determine whether we are smart enough, competent enough, and wise enough to escape from a global trap entirely of our own making.”

In this essay “Thinking about the Unthinkable,” Orr challenges us to face the reality of climate change and the larger ecological crisis. He states, with his characteristic bluntness:

In other words, the climatic destabilization we have incurred is not a solvable problem but a steadily worsening condition with which humans will have to contend for a long time to come. Early and effective action to end our use of coal, oil, and natural gas and switch to renewable energy can only contain the eventual scale, scope, and duration of climatic destabilization; it will not remedy the situation in any way that could reasonably be called a solution. That’s the science.

His conclusion:

We are now engaged in a global debate about what it means to become “sustainable.” But no one knows how we might secure our increasingly tenuous presence on the Earth or what that will require of us. We have good reason to suspect, however, that the word “sustainable” must imply something deeper than merely the application of more technology and smarter economics. It is possible and perhaps even likely that more of the same “solutions” would only compound our tribulations. The effort to secure a decent human future, I think, must be built on the awareness of the connections that bind us to each other, to all life, and to all life to come. And in time, that awareness will transform our politics, laws, economics, philosophies, manner of living, worldviews, and politics.

Orr, who teaches environmental studies at Oberlin College, is author of several books, including the recent collection Hope Is an Imperative: The Essential David Orr.

Read the essay online.

Orr will be speaking in Austin on “Black Swans and the U.S. Future: Creating Sustainable and Resilient Societies” at the University of Texas on Friday, September 14, at 7 pm.