“Can Books Change the World?” a TEDx Talk By Denny Taylor
The title of this TEDx talk is: “Can Books Change the World?”
We know they can. Sacred books. Great literature. Shakespeare. Dr. Seuss.
But be skeptical.
The world is changing and there are many individuals and groups intent on protecting their own self-interest who have no qualms about obfuscating the truth, and some of that obfuscation is accomplished by writing books.
And even renowned scholars who reject such malfeasance sometimes get it wrong.
For these reasons we need many sources of information in many books, and even then we might miss what is right in front of us.
“Someday the world will end,” is the first sentence in the book “The End of the World” which was written by Frankly M. Branley, the Astronomer Emeritus and the former Chairman of the Natural History Museum-Hayden Planetarium, and published in 1974.
Then on the next page he writes, “This is a gloomy forecast but one about which we should not despair. There are consoling factors. The end of the world will not occur in your lifetime, or that of your children’s children. We can be quite sure that doomsday will be billions of years in the future.”
In 1974 that was our thinking. I was still in my 20’s and in the aftermath of the Second World War young people in the U.K. were filled with optimism. We were sure we were making progress towards the creation of a more egalitarian world.
Young people today have no such delusions. Martin Rees, the renowned astronomer at the University of Cambridge, who describes himself as “a concerned member of the human race”, has actually written a book and recorded a TED talk entitled “Is this our final century?”
And books such as the one by Lord Rees have indeed changed our thinking about the world – but not our ways of living in the world.
Nick Bostrom at the University of Cambridge coined the term Existential Risk.
In this seminal paper he states, “An existential risk is one where humankind as a whole is imperiled. Existential disasters have major adverse consequences for the course of human civilization for all time to come.”
The situation is now so grave that Martin Rees, along with the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and others, have established the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge where scientists and philosophers are studying:
- The Depreciation of Earth Systems;
- Biodiversity, Climate and Environmental Risks; and
- Managing Extreme Technological Risk.
Jaan Tallinn, the founding engineer of Skype and Kazaa, is also a co-founder of the Cambridge Centre and he too is considering the possibility that this is our species’ final century.
And even though we hope this is NOT the case, there is little doubt the world is changing in ways that will jeopardize the future of our children.
Books by astrophysicists, climatologists, glaciologists, and environmentalists are piling up, articles are finally appearing in the mainstream media, and the minds of the people are changing, even though the chairman and members of the Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology are still madly profligating climate denial and actively blocking the urgent need for an all-hands-on-deck response to climate change.
But the public isn’t fooled.
Many people in the U.S. and around the world have read the books that have been written and the reports that have been published and we all know that the planet is changing.
Based on the evidence of science we know that an unbelievable step change has taken place, and there has been a massive shift in our thinking about climate change because of all the information that is available through social media links to the primary sources of data on what is happening to people and the planet.
It is now a well accepted scientific fact that we have left the 10,000 years of stable weather patterns that were the signature of our beloved Holocene, and we have entered the Anthropocene which is hotter, wetter, drier, more turbulent, unpredictable and polluted because of human activity.
In my mind I can reach and hold the hand of my grandmother who was born in the 19th century. I have been held in the arms of my great grandmother who was born in the 1860’s.
And I can reach out my other hand and quite literally hold the hand of my granddaughter who was born in the 21st century who I held in my arms when she was a baby.
But it is not just that my life spans three centuries, or that I was born in a different millennium than my granddaughter. What is totally astounding to me is that I was born in a different Epoch to her and to the millennials who mean so much to me.
Boomers – my generation – were born in the epoch of the Holocene, while the children of Boomers, and certainly Millennials, are the first generation of the Anthropocene.
If you are of my generation your grandchildren will never experience life on the planet before climate change. They will never experience the time when we were absolutely sure, as Frankly M. Branley was, that doomsday is billions of years away.
But we know that is not the case. My generation, born in the last century of the Holocene, is bequeathing to young people lives that are anthropogenic in a new century, a new millennium and a new epoch that brings with it less certainty and many challenges that we ourselves have not had to face.
But let’s imagine for a moment that we are still in the Holocene and we are white water rafting. It’s beautiful day and the sound of the water is music to our ears. It is crystal clear and we feel alive and full of ideas about what it means to be human. Then comes the thunder of whitewater and awesome rapids and we feel strong and powerful because we have on helmets and we’re wearing our designer life jackets.
We feel victorious. Lulled by the stable weather patterns of the Holocene we consider the planet at our disposal. Human ingenuity and technology can fix anything – right? But can it?
Now imagine our children in the same location but without a raft. They do not have helmets or life jackets. The water is not crystal clear. It is filled with the detritus of human activity on the planet.
Our children are doing everything they can to stay afloat in the slurry of contaminated water with knapsacks strapped to their backs filled with the college debts my generation has bestowed on them.
The gap between rich and poor is increasing exponentially as the last Holocene generation reaps the rewards of a financial system that has favored them – the white water rafters with ocean going yachts have burdened our Anthropogenic children with insurmountable debts.
And many young people are now indentured in the technological workplaces of corporations owned by the billionaires who have shackled them through the use of quota systems and customer satisfaction surveys to rate their performance, to determine their paychecks, and whether to fire them or not.
“Everybody cares about their kids, their grandkids, and the kind of world we pass on to them,” President Obama says in a conversation about climate change with Leonardo DiCaprio.
But our response to anthropogenic change does not reflect that. Our white water raft is going so fast we do not know how to stop it or slow it down long enough for us to save our kids and grandkids.
The books we read and the articles we study might very well have changed our world and impacted our thinking, but do we really understand what it means when scientists say to us we’re “nearly cooked”, or that all bets are off when we reach 400 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide?
Do we really understand that climate change is a “threat multiplier”?
We know our coastal communities are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures threaten many regions of the United States.
But can we honestly say we appreciate how these extreme risks are threat multipliers and how they will impact our children and grandchildren’s lives?
We know global warming is melting the Greenland Ice Sheet fast and that the rate of mass loss of the Ice Sheet is happening more quickly than predicted. But do we really understand what this bad news means or have any idea what to do about it?
In these precarious times of anthropologic change it is of vital importance that we build new understandings of what is happening to the planet so that we can do our part to decrease the dangers our children undoubtedly are going to face.
This is the reason that we founded Garn Press.
We who live small lives cannot solve the vast problem of climate change, but we can contribute to the struggle.
And at Garn we know in our hearts and in our minds that there is one fact that is indisputable: If human societies are to survive in the long term as well as the short term it is imperative we do everything we can to increase the resilience of the social systems that are the foundation of our democratic life.
We consider it absolutely critical that we all work together to maintain cohesion within society and that we support the care-giving professionals who work in the social institutions that are essential if human societies are going to survive.
We are not backwards in coming forwards in stating that we do not consider the oligarchs philanthropists, who use their money in divisive ways to dictate social policy, to be of any importance to us now.
We reject the political action committees – the PAC’s – that are jeopardizing our democracy and delaying the government’s response to the greatest disaster humanity has ever faced.
We know rich men will not save us.
If we are to survive it will be because teachers and nurses of conscience, and all those in the other caring professions who are at the center of our society, make it possible for our children not only survive but thrive.
At Garn we are convinced that all those who work for the common good in the caring professions must be supported at all costs. This is not an ideological stance – it is simply a matter of human survival.
To this end we are primarily focusing on supporting the courageous teachers of conscience in the nation’s public schools, because they are under threat. The public education system is gradually being dismantled and replaced by charter schools, many of which, even when supposedly non-profit, are run like for-profit corporations — often supported by billionaire funders with an ideological agenda that is dramatically interfering with both the social cohesion within U.S. society and the resilience of communities to cope with the threat multiplier of climate change and concomitant social unrest.
At Garn we want the public to have the confidence of knowing what is happening in the myriad of situations that both negatively and positively impact the struggle for social resilience and cohesion.
We’re constantly asking: What educational and economic reforms are needed to respond to the rapid changes that are taking place to the planet and human societies?
We want to create greater transparency in the sharing of critical information about what is happening to people and the planet so the public has the best possible opportunity to participate in decisions made about the planet and their kids.
To achieve this we are building partnerships and working with the scientists and scholars who are actually producing the research on which decision-making should be based.
We want society to work for everyone.
And we agree with Pierre Bezukhov in Tolstoy’s War and Peace that, “We all think we only have to be knocked a little bit off course and we’ve lost everything, but it’s only the start of something new and good. Where there is life, there is happiness.” And, “there is a huge amount yet to come.”
This is one of the reasons Garn is particularly interested in publishing easily accessible books by scientists and scholars — many of whom are teachers and first time authors — whose professional experience and scientific knowledge challenge the false narratives about human societies and unearth the propaganda that is often presented to the public as “factual” and “the truth.”
Essentially our task is to support a new generation of thinkers who are using the power of science and social experience to stand up for human rights and to participate in the struggle for a future in which Earth is a child safe zone.
Three years ago Garn did not exist.
Now we are publishing original nonfiction that explores compelling ideas and arguments based on primary research and investigative reporting ignored (covered-up?) by mainstream media.
We’re actively supporting writers of conscience who offer original research based perspectives on the most pressing issues of our day including: climate change, inequality, privatization of public education, children with special needs, gun violence, death and dying, cancer (love, loss, and survival), and many other critical factors jeopardizing social, economic, and environmental sustainability. In addition to books Garn press is publishing articles and commentaries by many renowned educators, artists, and scientists.
We’re committed nurturing the imagination and human spirit by publishing great novels and poetry. Garn’s award winning novelists and poets share this ideal, and all the fiction books published by Garn – whether mysteries, fantasies, or historical novels — are written not only to entertain, but also to raise serious questions about time, memory and whether what we see – in life as well as in the mirror – is what is really what is occurring.
The Garn Press website is groundbreaking in the publishing industry with few parallels. It is visually appealing and content-rich and we publish new and original content on a daily basis, not only about authors and books, but also articles, editorials, and commentaries about the most urgent issues of our day.
We’re conducting author interviews — producing videos, audios, and print interviews and readings by every author and posting them on the Garn Press website.
And, we’re featuring World News Commentary — editorials and articles that are not filtered as they are in the mainstream media.
These posts are often based on discussions with the scientists, for example, a glaciologist in Greenland who is engaged in primary research on the rapidity of the Ice Sheet Melt.
There’s much more, of course. If you have an opportunity visit the website and take a look at the curated World News Videos and a Video Playlists that are vital, dynamic, informative, and top it off with a look at the photo galleries of Ben Taylor’s breath-taking photos.
That three people – Ben, David and I — with the good will of authors and many supporters, have been able to produce all this gives you some idea how serious we take the debt we owe our children for what we have done to the planet and to the society we are handing to them.
We are doing everything we can to support the young people who will be left to mop up when we leave the planet.
We are constantly asking: “What will life on Earth be like in 50 years time?” And this question is followed by: “What actionable knowledge do we need to change the future now?” Which is followed by: “What can the public do to change the very dangerous and uncertain future of all our children?
We are clear eyed and work without expecting to make a huge difference but we do expect to make some difference by publishing books by writers of conscience who care deeply about what happens to people and this world.
We promise to continue publishing great books and providing great reading opportunities on the Garn Press website that support all those in the caring professions enhance social cohesion and resilience, encourage all of us to be brave, be fearless, and not forget to imagine the extraordinary opportunities of being human in these most challenging times.
Denny Taylor and Garn Press thank Dr. Jesse Turner and Dr. John Forshay for the invitation to record this TEDx talk at the University of Central Connecticut. At Garn Press we support both their scholarship and activism and we are grateful for this opportunity.
About Denny Taylor
Denny Taylor has organized more than 30 international scholars forums. She speaks to diverse national and international audiences on a broad range of issues, especially the interconnections between the rapid acceleration in climate change and the dismantling of US public schools, which are not widely recognized. Taylor is particularly interested in bringing to the attention of the public what many parents and teachers already know, which is that in the US, children are being taught to work for the corporations that are using up Earth’s resources, contaminating the planet, and causing the climate system to adversely change, making Earth and unsafe place for our kids to be.
In 1983, Taylor published Family Literacy, which is regarded a classic in the field; Growing Up Literate received the MLA Shaughnessy award in 1988; and Toxic Literacies, published in 1996, was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. In 2004, Taylor was inducted into the IRA’s Reading Hall of Fame. She is Professor Emerita of Literacy Studies at Hofstra University, and the co-founder and CEO of Garn Press. Her most recent books are Nineteen Clues: Great Transformations Can Be Achieved Through Collective Action, Save Our Children, Save Our School, Pearson Broke the Golden Rule, and [Keys To The Future: A Parent-Teacher Guide To Making Earth A Child Safe Zone (Fall, 2014).
Garn Press books: Rat-a-tat-tat! I’ve Lost My Cat!, Rosie’s Umbrella, Nineteen Clues: Great Transformations Can Be Achieved Through Collective Action, Save: A Satire. Forthcoming book Split Second Solution.