We asked science writer, Marek Kohn, to comment on his current work and ideas that have influenced him…
Which of your own ideas have you been thinking about most recently?
I’m increasingly preoccupied with the idea that strong communities and healthy democracy matter as much as green technologies and energy efficiency in our response to the threat of climate change. There are plenty of ways to meet the challenge; the biggest problem is agreeing on them.
What idea of someone else has made most impact on you recently?
That little in life is as dear to us as the good opinion of others. Adam Smith appreciated this: “Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their unfavourable regard. She rendered their approbation most flattering and most agreeable to him
for its own sake; and their disapprobation most mortifying and most offensive.”
What is the most important book/article of ideas that everyone should read and why?
The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It provides not only ideas but data to show that more equal societies are generally better societies – that making society more equal would make life better for everybody, not just those who are most deprived.
And finally, each year we ask everyone involved – audiences as well as speakers – one question. Charles Masterman, Liberal Party politician and journalist, asked in his book The Condition of England 100 Years Ago: “What will the future make of the present?” What is your answer to this?
I think it may well depend on whether we carry on as we are in the coming five to ten years, or make a decisive turn away from burning carbon. If we carry on as we are, I echo what Al Gore said at the end of An Inconvenient Truth: our descendants are likely to look back at us and ask “What were they thinking?”. It’ll be a rhetorical question. They will appreciate all too keenly why we continued to do more or less as we pleased, but they won’t thank us for it. They will remember us as the generation that had the chance to prevent dangerous climate change, but failed to make the best of human nature.