When people face a real or perceived threat from other humans, the winning strategy has been retreat or attack. For tens of thousands of years, to the victors went the best resources and the biggest payoff, more offspring. Individuals who responded with inaction when faced with aggression were usually unrewarded, and their dovish genes became less common.
Thanks to science and reason, the book to our biology is now open and we know the roots of our behavior. Plainly revealed in the subtext is the fact that the absence or presence of suffering had little effect in creating Homo sapiens, as long as the suffering didn't kill us. Behaviors that left more descendants became more common and whether or not a lineage suffered on the path toward high fecundity didn't matter much, as long as births exceeded deaths.
When Martin Luther King shared his dreams, he helped us rise above the innate distrust we feel toward those who aren't like us, resulting in reduced human suffering. In many ways, the world is a better place since King lived. Lynchings, once common in the South, are a thing of the past and an African American may become president. Martin Luther King and other remarkable humanitarians have helped create a better world by helping us reject the basest parts of our biology. Now we're looking down the barrel of global warming, the greatest threat that has ever faced humanity, and to be victorious we must rise above our biology in new ways.
We understand threats from other humans and will go to great lengths to conquer our enemies. Believing that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction, we have so far spent tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to defend the United States. We perceived a threat, had the means, and did exactly what our biology dictated. But what is so troubling and so challenging is that during the Iraq War, a far greater threat has largely been ignored.
This time, however, the threat is a simple molecule—carbon dioxide. Unless we act now, its effect in the atmosphere is likely to cause unprecedented human suffering. Unlike a human threat, however, this danger needs plenty of explanation for we have no ancient connection to the threat posed by an invisible molecule. If we succeed in slowing and reversing greenhouse gas emissions, humanity must effectively harness its most effective weapons: science and reason.
We need new dreams and new dreamers to help us clarify our priorities. We must adapt the formidable reasoning skills that allowed our distant ancestors to outwit and conquer their enemies and use them now to slow and reverse global warming.