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October 19, 2011

The Lucy Poem


‘The Lucy Poem’. Most environmental research depends on the establishment of a time-line: how far back in the history of the planet can we go to find information that we can analyse in order to make reasonable predictions? And, taking these historical timelines together, how do they interact and inter-twine? I first found myself writing about the future until I realised that such images neither consoled nor could describe accurately the climatic possibilities opening before us. The science of global warming alerts us to the realisation that such catastrophes lie behind us in history as well as before us; that everything affects another thing; and that, however much we have transformed them, climate conditions are beyond good and evil—our weather is not a moral climate. In order to find a truer time-line for writing a poem about global warming, I began thinking about previous climatic transformations, and how our ancestral species dealt with them. I settled on the story of ‘Lucy’, the famous Australopithecus afarensis of Ethiopia dating to 3.2m BC, the heart of the Pleiocene Era. Who were her family or tribe and what were their stories? Where was ‘Lucy’ going the day she died? In her mind - and it was likely to be a considerable mind - how might ‘Lucy’ narrate the world around her? Her world and that of other creatures of her time (including large predatory civets and mass populations of antelope) were under unimaginable threat. Unlike us, ‘Lucy’ knew nothing about it nor could she or her kind have done anything to prevent the coming changes. Our evolution came about because the world of ‘Lucy’ was utterly transformed - the activity of nearby supernovae caused the destruction of the ozone layer. The changes wrought to the planet tipped the Pleiocene era into the Pleistocene. What ‘Lucy’ left behind for us to unearth was her presence, not her name. Her presence was the story, a time-line that predicted our own present. The story and name of ‘Lucy’ represents our story but with these differences: we have a time-line, we possess a little knowledge, and we know that our ability to continue the story of our own species lies in our hands.

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