Peter Kahn

Environmental, generational amnesia

THEMES: Society, Conservation, Challenges & Opportunities  |  WORKSHOP: Natural History & Society


Peter Kahn

Peter H. Kahn, Jr. is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington, and director of the Human Interaction With Nature and Technological Systems (HINTS) Lab. The HINTS Lab seeks to address – from an ethical stance – two world trends that are powerfully reshaping human existence: (1) the degradation if not destruction of large parts of the natural world, and (2) unprecedented technological development, both in terms of its computational sophistication and pervasiveness. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988. His 1999 book (MIT Press) is titled The Human Relationship with Nature: Development and Culture. His forthcoming book (MIT Press) to be published in February is titled: Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of Human Life. His research projects are currently being funded by the National Science Foundation.




Peter Kahn:The land above my cabin that I built as a teenager, it was old growth, so that's what I came of age with is old growth 30 feet behind the cabin. And over subsequent years its been logged five times. Each time it was logged I would walk the land, and the last time it was logged it was taken down to 11 inches in diameter on 60 degree slopes. And I'd walk the land and I'd cry. Because it's so sad; it's devastating.

But now the problem is that people from the city, when they come up to these sorts of areas, they see trees that are 11 inches in diameter and think these are really good, healthy reasonable forests. What's their calibration? Their calibration is from urban settings, or much more devastated settings. So across generations as kids come of age in these more degraded conditions, they calibrate on these and think that this is normal and healthy. And if we don't solve the problem of this environmental, generational amnesia, I don't see how we're going solve the large issues. Because the problem is people don't recognize that there's a problem.

And it's a psychological issue. You were asking, "what's the role of psychology in terms of natural history?" I think this is one role of psychology. If we can't recognize the problem, there's no way we're going to solve it.