God Help Us

There seem to have been a number of articles over the last few months which have focused on the psychology of climate change, and why it is that environmentalists have not done a good job of persuading people that we have a serious problem on our hands that needs immediate, drastic action if we are to preserve the Earth in a habitable state for humans. The latest article by Professor David Uzzell of the University of Surrey was referred to by Leo Hickman of The Guardian:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/sep/23/climate-change-psychology-response-scepticism

I haven’t actually read the report yet, but Hickman says environmentalists are called to task for talking about saving the planet and encouraging people to do something for the sake of their grandchildren. People, it says, are simply not motivated by such talk. Well, that’s a bit of an eye-opener. For about 20 years now, beginning with climate scientists like James Hansen, and writers like Bill McKibben, we have been warned about the catastrophe that lies ahead of us if we don’t do something to drastically reduce our carbon emissions. We’ve been told that greenhouse gases (GHGs) stay in the atmosphere for a long time and that what we’re witnessing now is the result of what we pumped into the air 30 years ago. We’ve been told that if we stop all emissions now, we’ll still have many years of increasing temperatures because of what’s already in the air. We’ve been told of the likely consequences of going beyond certain tipping points – of which there are many – including increasingly frequent extreme weather events causing droughts, wildfires, floods, massive crop losses and wildlife extinctions, plus huge numbers of refugees. We’ve been told how our use of fossil fuels is a major contributor to this, as is our maniacal destruction of rainforests and our idiotic pursuit of more and more economic growth. We’ve been told what needs to be done to change all this before it’s too late to stop runaway climate change. We’ve been told all this in ever increasing detail for over twenty years, and now this summer we’ve had climate scientists saying for the first time that climate change has been driving the extreme weather events in Russia and Pakistan and China and the USA, not to mention the fact that 19 countries set all-time records for their highest recorded temperatures, and that the last 12 months have been the hottest on record, and the last decade the hottest on record, and the decade before that was the second hottest on record, and the one before that the third hottest on record and so on back for fifty years, and the Arctic is demonstrably melting before our eyes as are most of the glaciers around the world and, now, the Antarctic, and so on and so on. Telling people all of this, it seems, is not the way to motivate them. How silly of environmentalists to think that people might sit up and take notice when told of these catastrophic events. Why would anyone be concerned about such things? No, environmentalists should have been thinking of ways of engaging people by projecting a positive vision of the future. The good professor had this to say:

 “People are not interested in concepts such as “saving the planet” or “doing it for their grandchildren”. People want impacts that are concrete, immediate and personal to them. They need to see how it’s benefiting them. If they are being asked to make – what they see in their terms, at least – as a sacrifice, they need to see what the benefit is to them.

We shouldn’t be surprised that people see climate change as remote and impersonal to them. We shouldn’t be talking about how our lives will become somehow poorer through climate change, but instead be talking about it could help us to become healthier, happier and enable us to live in a better environment.”

Ah, now I see. The people of Pakistan are healthier and happier as a result of a good dose of rainwater, and the Russian folk have been cleansed in purifying fire. I wonder if they thought the effects of climate change were ‘remote and impersonal’. Or is it that these people are not part of the equation because they’re not…. British? What levels of madness have we actually reached here? It seems that Joe Public, at least in places like Britain and America, is such an incurably selfish, myopic moron that he doesn’t have enough imagination to see that his actions are destroying the future of his grandchildren and indeed of the planet itself. Or if he can see it, he doesn’t give a damn because it’s too remote and impersonal. This is indeed the selfish gene par excellence. But on top of that we have academics who think this is perfectly normal and acceptable, and that the environmentalists are to blame for not mollycoddling poor Joe with sweet stories of how wonderful life will be in a world of diminishing food supplies, a crashed economy and massive restrictions on the use of fossil fuels. And then there’s the weather…… Who’s more insane, the morons who don’t want to hear about global warming (GW), or the academics who tell us this is quite understandable? Well it’s not understandable to me. There is absolutely no excuse for not finding out as much as you can about GW once you’ve heard just a bit of what the scientists are saying. Anyone with access to a computer in the industrialised world can make informed judgements of their own by surfing the net which can leave them in no doubt about the massive scale of the crises facing us. It is then impossible to turn a blind eye to this and do nothing, especially if you have children, unless you have the moral conscience of a psychopath. Unfortunately, that seems to be what we’ve got: millions of brainless consumers totally devoid of moral conscience who are good for nothing but buying the latest piece of trash to keep themselves entertained until they’re told by the admen to go buy another one to keep themselves at the cutting edge of cool. So, this is the end product of millions of years of evolution, is it? God help us.

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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