David Harrington
Violinist, Artistic Director, Kronos Quartet
United States

Something Precious

“All those who object to the unsurvivable situation humanity faces must mobilize every available resource to circumvent dire shortsightedness.”

When we hold something that is very precious, the only one of its kind—a baby, an heirloom from a beloved ancestor, a grandchild's painting—we take care of it, we cherish it and ensure that it is safe. This is a human trait. Earth is our collective heirloom “borrowed from our children.” Many elders have forgotten the fragility of our singular planet, with its wildly generous teeming nature now unsafe in a teetering balance. The elders have much to learn. I am an elder. Learning is renewal.

Let's step back for a moment and recall the words of Eugene Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 mission: “You have to literally just pinch yourself and ask yourself the question silently: Do you really know where you are at this point in time and space, and in reality and in existence? When you look out the window and you’re looking back at the most beautiful star in the heavens—the most beautiful because it’s the one we understand and we know it … We’re home. It’s humanity; it’s people, family, love, life. And besides that it is beautiful. You see from pole to pole and across oceans and continents. You can watch it turn, and there’s no strings holding it up. And it’s moving in a blackness that is almost beyond conception.”

When our Earth is seen from this perspective, Cernan's observations become like a prayer or an invocation to the powers we must immediately harness in order to surmount the devastating abyss humanity has allowed free reign. Now with each decision, each action we make, with every learning opportunity and new discovery, we must gain more of the energy, strength and wisdom needed to create a counterbalance to the immense environmental destruction we have wrought on our Earth. We desperately need the most nimble imaginations, the most flexible of visionaries, people at ease with the tools to solve some of the nastiest, seemingly impossible problems ever confronted. Our schools and teachers have to unleash and empower the creative fire of all students. A worldwide community of objectors must rise up. All those who object to the unsurvivable situation humanity faces must mobilize every available resource to circumvent dire shortsightedness. Our global society must grow a new conscience. Students will teach the elders. Together we must vault beyond the ignorance, greed and bad decisions of the past.

Everything cycles back to each one of us. Pollutants from the other side of the world, or the other side of town will make it back to each of us. Clearly there is no escape. Rote learning, test taking and evading facts, all get lots of publicity and societal rewards. Let's remember that so often explorations in the arts have fueled discoveries in the sciences. Inspiration and uplifting ideas need to be gathered from all areas of life. Fearless questioning is paramount. People who can see things in different, alternate and unusual perspectives are needed more than ever. We need a huge splash of ice-cold water on our tired lethargic faces. It's time to change the face of reality.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be a giant leap for mankind if the momentum of this small step propels us to reinvent our path forward.

Violinist and artistic director of the Kronos Quartet, Harrington founded the contemporary-classical string quartet.