Becoming a Climate Intellectual @ Scientific American

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Last October, the headlines that ran across my computer screen left a sickening feeling in my stomach. “Major climate report describes a strong risk of crisis as early as 2040,” warned the New York Times. “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say,” echoed the Washington Post.

The next morning felt to me like the day after the 2016 election, I write in an essay published last week at Scientific American

The new U.N. climate change report had transformed society’s failures, so obvious yet overlooked for so long, into a reality that left me paralyzed by doubt. Given the stakes involved, should I remain a researcher and academic, should I turn to activism, or should I become something else?

At the time, I happened to be reading Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the majestic Indian poem, written sometime between the 5th century B.C.E and 1st century C.E.

Revered for centuries, the teachings offered by the Gita comprise history’s greatest treatise on finding our dharma, our sacred path in an uncertain world. Discovering your dharma, involves bringing your most concentrated focus to some deeply compelling activity for which you have a true calling, and which answers the urgency of the times.

It is about embracing your own particular genius and gift, bringing forth your unique point of view and idiosyncratic wisdom. But pursuing your sacred path, as the Gita counsels, also requires that you give yourself entirely to your work free of the distraction of lesser pursuits, detaching completely from any thoughts of the fruits of your labor.

Reading the Gita, I realized that I was already living very close to my dharma and sacred calling. My path forward in answering the call of the times was in plain sight, I just needed to clear away the noise to recognize it.

In the essay at Scientific American, adapted from a lecture I delivered last month at the University of Michigan, I tell the story of how I found my path forward in the Age of Climate Change.

It’s also a call to other academics, professionals, and students to identify their own unique path, by reserving time and room for deep reflection and focus, accomplished by way of minimalism, solitude and mindfulness.

Reclaiming our intellectual lives not only requires stripping away the noise of lesser pursuits and ending our addiction to social media, but for academics, it also means resisting the corporatization of universities which has turned campus culture into a constant churn of grant chasing, paper inflation, publication counting, and productivity for productivity’s sake.

Read the full essay at Scientific American:

As always, I welcome your thoughts, insights, and disagreements.


About the Author: 

Matthew Nisbet is Professor of Communication, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Communication, a monthly columnist at Issues in Science and Technology magazine, and a regular contributor to Scientific American.