In her opinion article in the New York Time, Harvard historian Maya Jasanoff argues that an act of terrorism in London in 1894 attempted by a Frenchman triggered not only the first age of global terrorism but also a reaction that made migrants and civil liberties pay the price. Despite better knowledge, even today terrorism leads to actions that punish those who are not linked to terrorism and restrict civil liberties, implicitly making terrorists far more successful than they could be, would we use the knowledge we have to react differently. Already Joseph Conrad made this case in his analysis of terrorism in “The Secret Agent” published in 1907. A special report on terrorism in the June 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind summarizes what we know about the causes of terrorism and the actions needed to reduce the risk of terrorism, and comparing this knowledge to the societal reactions to terrorism shows that hidden agendas by key actors in those societies impacted by terrorism lead to actions that hinder migration of those in peril, take away our civil liberties, and by that, create more, not less, terrorism.
The same is true for climate change. We have all the knowledge about the causes and the severe consequences of current and future climate change, but the knowledge is not used to design actions that would reduce our impact on the Earth’s life-support system, keep climate change within a tolerable range, and ensure a basis for the welfare of future generations. A core step in this direction would be to limit growth – see the column on overcoming our growth addiction. But instead, we all are impressed by those who promise more growth. And this message of basically infinite comes from those who benefit most from more growth. Those who pay the price are the poor and less privileged, who carry the main load of the collateral damage of growth. It is time that we take responsibility for our knowledge and translate it into action.