The man who showed that black holes give off radiation, now known as Hawking radiation, has died – 55 years after doctors told him he had two years left to live. According to fellow physicist Max Tegmark, having been told he would die young made Stephen Hawking push for actions that would ensure that humanity did not. That may be why he was one of the founding members of the Climate Leadership Council, an organisation pushing for the same thing as us, a carbon fee and dividend, a rational and fair way of cutting emissions and thereby ensuring that humanity fulfils its potential the way Hawking fulfilled his.
He wasn’t afraid to tackle the big issues, and not just those of physics. In has later years he was quite outspoken about the existential threats our species faces.
Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now
Most of us aren’t very good at facing existential threats, and our politics, geared as it is to 5 year (or less) electoral cycles and 24 hour news cycles (news of Hawking’s death is already old news) is even worse. As Chris Donaldson wrote on this site a few months ago
Ultimately, humans simply don’t have the mental energy to deal with this abstract, future threat
Well, as Hawking showed, some humans do, but dealing with the threat is more than just appreciating that it is a threat, dealing with it means coming up with solutions that can realistically tackle it. We need to think like scientists, and see climate change as a problem which has a solution.
Another great scientist, perhaps the greatest climate scientist around, is James Hansen, the man who brought climate change to the world’s attention with his testimony to the US Congress in 1988, has also been unafraid to deal with the existential crisis facing us and is also a supporter of fee and dividend as a key solution, one that can attract support from across the political spectrum. James Hansen, who is on Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s advisory board, once said
It’s hard to ignore the views of such great minds, of people who have thought long and hard about a problem that most of us push to the backs of our minds as we get on with our lives.
Richard Dawkins tweeted this line from Wordsworth:
Silent face, the marble index of a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.
He was writing about Newton, but could equally well have been referring to Hawking. And yet, though he could only speak through a computer, he was far from silent.