Be Promethean

Today we wrap up our AMS workshop on Earth Observations, Science, and Services for the 21st Century. It’s proving to be a good two and a half days. We’ve developed a great core of ideas that taken together make a powerful rationale for our work. They show how we can help a world that needs resources, and that must at the same time protect the environment and build resilience to Earth’s violent extremes. They show how we can translate observations into knowledge and understanding, and apply that understanding for human benefit.

Along the way? We’ve been getting in touch with our Promethean side.

Do you know your Prometheus? I thought I did – remembered that according to Greek mythology he gave men fire. Oh…little detail…it wasn’t exactly his to give. He’d stolen it from Zeus. Angered, Zeus chained him to a rock. Not satisfied, Zeus had a giant eagle tear out Prometheus’ liver every day; but each day his liver would grow back to be eaten once again. Talk about torture! Prometheus finally breaks free and puts an end to this vicious cycle. An eight-foot Lipchitz bronze in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art commemorates the moment – Prometheus Strangling the Vulture. [Made a real impression on me when I was a college student. Forget the statue there to Rocky Balboa.]

Wikipedia provides more of the story. The legend has seen centuries of reworking and embellishments. Pandora is involved. Hercules. Others. There’s more intrigue, betrayal, pain, suffering.

But for today’s post, let’s keep to the simple idea of Prometheus as an immortal who had humanity’s best interests at heart – and who gave humanity a vital key to the future. And let’s all of us contributing to Earth observations, science, and services for the 21st century strive to be Promethean.

What exactly do I mean? After all, mankind has had fire for as long as anyone can remember. And that’s not all – we have electricity. We have medicine. New knowledge and technologies are arriving all the time. Too late for you and I to give mankind those great gifts.

But we can yet share in this same generous spirit – and achieve that same huge impact – only better, because we’re doing it for real. We can carry out our research, gain our knowledge and understanding about how to tap the Earth’s resources; learn what we need to do to protect the environment and keep those gifts coming; and figure out how to guard against those natural hazards. We can put this science and understanding into practice, and thus freely share that knowledge, as Francis Bacon suggests, for the benefit of life.

Why belabor this point?

For the simple reason that given the world’s perilous state, the fiscal constraints facing governments, and the partisanship rampant throughout all civilized discussion, the world, from its top leadership on down to the poorest and least among us, hungers for individuals and a community who put the interests of others ahead of their own.  I know so many of you. You are and desire to continue to be, such people, and such a community. Together we can do this. We can focus more on how we can help the world than on what we need from it.

As Mark Twain said, “Always do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

Let’s startle some folks. And make the world more sustainable in the process. And that vulture some might see circling high overhead? That fear of brokenness, fear of poverty, fear of failure, fear of the future? When the time comes, we’ll strangle it.

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