It is 1774, and no this is not about Boston, but about Franeker. On May 8, a special configuration of the planets could be observedI in early morning sky in Friesland. Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter were closely lined up, and Eelco Alta, a local pastor predicted that the mutual forces of these planets would throw our home planet out of orbit and would then be burned up by the sun. It caused fear and unrest among the population. It also spurred Eise Eisinga, a wool comber in his daily profession, to start building a planetarium in his living room in Franeker in order to ease the panic. it took him seven years and is the oldest working planetarium in the world. Earth remained in its orbit.

Anxiety about our fate is also a current phenomena, but apparently not unprecedented. That is, anxiety is not new, but the cause of our current anxiety however is unique. Rapid changes is our atmosphere, water and other resources are such that in the foreseeable future, they may no longer support life as we know it. While the previous millennium has been affected by a fair share of regional climatic swings – the Little Ice Age for instance was a period of regional cooling and caused crop failure and famine in different parts of the world, just not all at the same time – our current predicament is a global phenomena.

Over the past 150 years, leading up to the new, current millennium we have burned through the Earth’s energy sources at unprecedented rates as if there is no tomorrow. In the name of sustainability, we use more technological capacity to tap into other sources, that supposedly burn ‘cleaner,’ in order to maintain our achieved standards of living.  Our soils, our oceans, nothing is not a potential ecosystem service, a term that is defined as that “Ecosystems provide services to humankind. Those may involve the provision of a product (e.g. drinking water), a regulatory authority (e.g, pollination of crops), a cultural service (e.g, providing opportunities for recreation), or a service that supports the services mentioned earlier (e.g the cycle of nutrients in an ecosystem).” It is strange way of thinking, as “this world was made for you and me.” * Sounds pretty arrogant. Even if considered from a capitalist system way of thinking, when a service is provided you should receive something of equal value in return. We failed to do just that.

Unlike the previous millennium, our current climatic challenges are caused largely by our own behavior. The good news is, if we are the cause, we can also provide the solution, that is, if we are willing to change our behavior. Western science has given us incredible insights, but by virtue of being embedded within a capitalist system, it has also guided our paths toward (over) exploitation of resources, of people. Other knowledge systems, non-western science, ancient wisdom has long been neglected, eradicated even, Maya astronomy, to name just one.

What if, I always wonder, these knowledge traditions would not have been so violently disrupted, destroyed by Colonial powers…

Unlike Eise Eisinga, who could built a planetarium to show that the alignment of the planets would not cause our planet to be burned up, we have little in the way of scientific evidence to ease our current concerns and fears. We need to change our values, attitudes and behavior. That is not easy but you can start by reading: