Episode 20 – “Elegy”

Three astronauts, lost in space, sometime in the future, land on a planet  a lot like earth. There are barns, dogs, and people, but nothing moves. The upshot: They’ve arrived at a cemetery,  and though they don’t know it, it’s their final resting place.

When the mystery is revealed, by an automaton caretaker who looks like a human, we learn that what’s special about this cemetery is that people are frozen into the moment they cherish the most.  Why does this cemetery on a distant planet exist, and what is it’s relation to earth? The caretaker is aware that the people of earth have essentially destroyed their planet in a nuclear war, and points out that the mission of a cemetery couldn’t be achieved on earth: “… peace, everlasting peace – you couldn’t have that on earth, could you?” The astronauts realize that they are to be placed in the cemetery, and ask “Why us?” “The caretaker replies: “Because you are men, and while there are men, there can be no peace.”

So what can we say other than that this is a dark portrait of the future of humanity. We will destroy our planet, get  lost in  space, and be reduced to a static representation of our hopes and dreams. Perhaps this is a vision of our loss, the loss not only of our home, our planet, but the loss of our way, of our dynamic relationship to nature, and to others. The astronauts find a planet that at first appears like our own, but ultimately reveals itself as devoid of both life and society. If this is our future, it is one without value, a life not worth living. We may run, but we can’t hide or escape what we’ve done to ourselves and our planet.

When this episode aired, there was little by way of philosophical treatment of issues related to the environment, though moral and political theorizing about the trade-offs of short and long term goals and interests can be found in the works of John Stuart Mill and even earlier thinkers. Now we have an entire sub-field of ethics called “Environmental Ethics,” where philosophers weigh in on questions about our obligations to future generations, and to the sustainability of our natural environment.

Further Reading:

Stephen Gardiner, et, al., eds., Climate Ethics: Essential Readings (Oxford University Press, 2010).

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