Curious and creative students from across the globe have begun to use the Internet effectively to create their own “meta-university” to access climate lectures, classes and talks at Cambridge University, Oxford, Harvard, Yale, the University of California, MIT and elsewhere throughout the world.
In effect, students have demonstrated that they can learn — and learn to adapt — much faster than the institutions in which they work. They can innovate well beyond the confines of any one degree-granting entity — and they have done so now in massive numbers across the globe.
Some students have devised their own specialty research environments to assist their own studies and serve them for the rest of their lives as the means to keep informed on a daily basis of what is unfolding on a global scale. Other scholars across the world have begun to use the Internet to create teaching platforms, like “Climate University,” to communicate with the wider public.
The challenge of climate change requires the human community to alter its habits of behavior on a scale never before experienced. At the same time the Internet affords new avenues and instruments of public education and communication never previously available. It remains an open question to see if the Internet can be deployed fast enough and effectively enough to facilitate the kind of transition that will be required for the human community to move to a post-fossil-fueled civilization.
Basically, the question is simple: Can the human community devise methods to educate itself effectively and change its collective behavior in time to avert the collapse of modern civilization?
The honest answer is that we do not know — yet.
Nevertheless there is no question that this is now the challenge — not for any one culture, language community, nation-state or religious tradition. This is the challenge for humanity itself.
At the very least we need to devise mechanisms and technologies to “speak” about the challenge across all languages — new means of human communication. Non-governmental organizations with no particular “ax to grind” in the “blame game” have already shown us the way in which this can be accomplished through the Internet with universal symbols — without the words of any one language. Consider the message from 350.org “Because the World Needs to Know”
For the time being there is no universal language of human communication. For reasons largely derived from the political legacy of the nineteenth century British Empire, a significant portion of the world speaks English. This may not remain the case for very much longer as China and India become the center of innovation and overwhelming industrial activity, dwarfing the “Western World” in the not so distant future. At the moment, India is the largest English-speaking country in the world, and the Chinese are making enormous strides in mastering English as well. Nevertheless, it may prove unwise to assume that the English language will retain the prominence it has enjoyed as the dominant means of human communication over the last two centuries.
In the meantime, however, there is still a great deal that can be accomplished by using English on the Internet to mobilize the entire human community. In fact, there are many examples of the ways in which the Internet is now being mobilized to put fundamental questions about the human future before the international community. Consider the important observations offered by an an American professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to a student audience in Dublin which webcast around the world:
In fact, students have long-ago discovered that well beyond the strictures of formal lectures, the Internet can be used very fruitfully for interviews and extended question and answer exchanges where a complete line of reasoning can be outlined much more rapidly and efficiently than through the laborious process of book publication. Once again, an MIT Professor has made this quite clear with interviews from his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts:
In fact, the rapidly emerging Chomsky Internet archive now serves the world as a rich source of insight on many misconceptions that dominate our modern civilization. For years Chomsky has pointed to the irony that what Adam Smith actually thought and wrote about in The Wealth of Nations fundamentally contradicts the beliefs of those who cite his work most ardently (and erroneously) in our day.
This kind of insight might formerly have been restricted to those who could fit into Chomsky’s office or classroom at MIT or read about it in a footnote in an extended publication. Now, however, because of Internet technology, this important new understanding of Adam Smith can be shared throughout the English-speaking world virtually instantaneously.
Beyond the insight of individuals there are some very hopeful signs that old and venerable institutions are beginning to re-purpose themselves to address the crises at hand. Yale University, for example, has created a new joint-degree program with Tsinghua University in China.
Further, in Oxford very much older Colleges are devising new means to provide instruction on how human communities can learn to adapt to coming changes in climate.
There is no guarantee that the human community can act fast enough to change its collective behavior in time to avert catastrophe for much of modern civilization, but it is certain that around the world many of today’s students — and some of the institutions within which they are learning — are striving heroically to embrace this task and devote their lives and institutional resources to accomplishing it.