David P. Turner / August 18, 2023
The pill metaphor – taking a pill as a route to altered consciousness – has been around in popular culture for some time (e.g. The Jefferson Airplane song White Rabbit). The metaphor was used as a central theme in the 1999 sci-fi film The Matrix. In the movie, rebel leader Morpheus offers the hero Neo a choice of 1) a blue pill, which will put him back to sleep about the existence of the Matrix (a computer simulation of human existence in which all humans are unconsciously embedded), or 2) a red pill, which will keep him awake to the existence of the Matrix and allow him to step outside it and join the gang of revolutionaries who are trying to destroy the Matrix and save humanity.
The pill metaphor is catnip to social commentators, and many pill colors (and interpretation of those colors) have been expounded (you can search by pill color in The Urban Dictionary).
Here, I want to introduce my interpretation of a pill variant known as the green pill. Taking the green pill awakens the partaker to the human predicament in terms of our relationship with the global environment. Earth system scientists have shown that the human technological enterprise (the technosphere) is rapidly altering the Earth system – notably the climate and the biosphere – in a way detrimental to a sustainable human future.
Despite being a part of the technosphere, most humans are barely aware of it as a thing with structure and function. As with the biosphere (the sum of all life on Earth), the technosphere has a throughput of energy (mostly fossil fuels at this point) and a cycling of materials (albeit poorly developed at this point). Humans participate in the technosphere, but do not fully control it (e.g. our difficulty in reducing fossil fuel emissions). Pervasive development of socio-ecological systems at all spatial scales, and continued work on building institutions of global environmental governance, provide a pathway to a better managed technosphere.
Taking the metaphorical green pill means becoming aware of yourself as a part of the technosphere, and accepting that big changes (non-violent in origin) are needed in our values and in how the technosphere operates (e.g. a global renewable energy revolution).
As more of us take the green pill, we will strengthen the movement to redesign the technosphere into something more sustainable.