Sustainability and Shakespeare

WILLIAM-SHAKESPEAR_2122089b“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that” — The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare’s works have endured the centuries because we continue to see ourselves in the mirror he holds up. In a time of great divisiveness and strife, it is more important than ever that we seek out our common humanity and remind ourselves that, regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation, an objective examination of the human condition reveals that we share far more in common than all that separates us. This is as true across political, geographic, national, and cultural divides, as it is across the centuries.

Science and engineering, far from divorced from that we can learn of ourselves from the humanities, are inseparably entwined in the human condition, in our values and motivations. The most serious challenges we face are of our own making and the best hopes for their solutions similarly lie in our hands. We do not have the option of living in the world we want, but adapting and making the best of the world we have. I would prefer a world with no species extinctions, with limitless natural resources, with abundant free energy, devoid of prejudice, hatred, and disease. That is decidedly not the planet I was born to. The world is at times and in places of indescribable peace and beauty, and in others unpredictable, threatening, and explosively violent. And the same human species that produced the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, cured disease, discovered our evolutionary roots, and wrote moving sonnets is now using up resources, scarring the landscape, and lighting the fuse on the first mass extinction event in 65 million years.

If we are to effectively and justly deal with environmental challenges to the benefit of all people and generations, then we must seek out the intersection of environmental issues and our common humanity. Will we all not suffer from polluted water? Will we all not want for depleted energy and fisheries? Would we all not benefit from renewable resources and the stabilizing effects of biological diversity? It is good from time to time to gaze upon Shakespeare’s looking glass with clear eyes and let our differences fade from view.


About qdwheeler

Quentin Wheeler is the 4th president of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry
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1 Response to Sustainability and Shakespeare

  1. Well said, President Wheeler. Interestingly, your rereading of the Merchant of Venice is not far from that of the ‘Risk Society’, so well articulated by the late German sociologist, Ulrich Beck…

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