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image: Davide Haines Study for Hydrogen Alpha Series, 2007, digital image.
Courtesy of the artist
120 x 120 cm



Sean Cubitt
Tally Palmer
Jade Herriman and Stuart White


Dialogue on a new world view
Jade Herriman and Professor Stuart White, Director
Institute for Sustainable Futures

University of Technology Sydney

The world is but a perennial movement. All things in it are in constant motion—the earth, the rocks of the Caucasus, the pyramids of Egypt—both with the common motion and with their own. Michel de Montaigne (1)

In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus’s book On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres was published, challenging the long held view that the earth stood still at the centre of the universe and that all heavenly bodies revolved around it.

Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemic and Copernican (1632) outlined his theoretical considerations, astrological observations and methodological analysis, supporting a sun-cenetered view of the universe. It also triggered his trial by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633 and resulted in his condemnation as a heretic and the banning of the book. Although this is often discussed as an example of church – science conflict, many theorists observe that in fact he had clergymen amongst his supporters and scientists taking the opposite side, therefore this might more accurately be considered a split between progressive and conservative attitudes, and the episode illustrates the interaction between science and politics, between science and society and between individual freedom and institutional authority. (2)

"We ought not to be too anxious respecting the opinions of others. ... Those who are bold enough to advance before the age they live in.. must learn to brave censure."
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

For a century and a half the relative merits of the two views of the solar system were under debate. The change in thinking was slow, and the debate was controversial and highly charged. This is the history behind the current day almost universally held understanding that the earth, along with other planets is in orbit around the sun.

Is this similar to the change that is currently taking place in our thinking about climate change?

“We are entering the Oh Shit era of global warming
- Rolling Stone Magazine, 3 November, 2005

There has been a view that people could use and change any aspect of the planet as they wished and it would improve our lives. The thinking was that the world was predictable, manageable and controllable. This view is being challenged. The world is a complex system with feedback loops, and change can be unpredictable.

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward let us range,

Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”
Alfred Tennyson (3)

And yet, is it all bad news? Some remind us that if we as a species are capable of creating the technology and impetus that can change the weather in 200 years, we are surely also capable of dreaming up and bringing into being a suitable response that reflects a new world view.

Scientific American columnist and skeptic Michael Shermer recently commented:
[D]ata trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic climate change. ... Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.

The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day ... a movement is only people moving.”
Gloria Steinem (4)

So yes, we know what needs to be done. The solutions are staring us in the mirror. It is us that have constructed this path that is being followed, and it is us that can choose to strike out on a new one. On that new path lies a different range of uncertainties and opportunities, and a different set of possible futures. Those futures will be more equitable, more gentle on the planet and inspire hope rather than encourage fear.

They will be the realization of a different world view.

In two or three hundred years life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, astounding. Man needs such a life and if it hasn’t yet appeared, he should begin to anticipate it, wait for it, dream about it, prepare for it. To achieve this, he has to see and know more than did his grandfather and father.” Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (5)


1. Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), French essayist. “Of Repentance,” The Essays (Les Essais), bk. III, ch. 2, Abel Langelier, Paris (1588).

2. Galileo Galilei. Galileo on the World systems – a new abridged translation and guide. Translated by Maurice A . Finocchiaro Published 1997 University of California Press

3. Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892), British poet. Locksley Hall (l. 181–182). . . Tennyson; a Selected Edition. Christopher Ricks, ed. (1989) University of California Press.

4. Gloria Steinem (b. 1934), U.S. feminist, author, and editor. As quoted in Time, p. 57 (March 9, 1992).

5. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860–1904), Russian author, playwright. Vershinin in Three Sisters, act 1.