Arguing the Toss

I’ve often silently castigated myself for not using every opportunity to bring climate chaos and peak oil into conversations at appropriate times. To some extent it seems to be cowardice on my part for not trying to convince people of the urgent necessity for all of us to change our lifestyles immediately if we are to have a hope in hell of stopping runaway climate change. I’m probably scared of not being able to marshal my arguments in a coherent way, or maybe I know I’ll forget the facts and figures that are needed to show people that I’m not just talking off the top of my head. There’s also a tendency I have of losing my cool when people are talking nonsense, which can lead to me snapping at them as if they’re idiots, thereby absolutely ensuring that they’re not going to be persuaded of anything by the likes of me. However, there’s another side to it which I think prevents me from getting into too many such discussions, and that is the fact that so many people are so deep in denial because of their refusal to countenance any change in their lives, that you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to make them see reality.

Recently, we had visitors from Australia here who were telling us about the wild changes in weather in Eastern Australia over the last few years, ranging from extreme droughts to extreme floods. I said it was down to global warming, feeling it was ridiculous to continue the conversation without mentioning it. This led to various interesting comments: when I said that they should look at what the scientists are saying about global warming, the response was that scientists get things wrong, and the implication was that you might as well toss a coin to decide whether any scientific statement is correct or not: it’s all pretty arbitrary. Someone else said that she doesn’t need to see what the scientists are saying because she can get her information from the newspapers. I’ll leave you to ponder the implications of that. Meanwhile, a friend chipped in that the whole subject was still undecided (global warming, that is), which perfectly illustrates how successful the climate change deniers have been. By perpetrating the notion that the science is still uncertain – which is on a parallel with saying that the holocaust is still being debated by historians – they have given people the lifeline they need to excuse themselves from altering their profligate lifestyles. This same friend was in conversation with others a week later in which they were talking about the airplane trips they had planned over the next year or so, which involved journeys back and forth to Europe and America. There was not the slightest indication that global warming played any part whatsoever in their decisions. They were just going to carry on doing what they’d done for years, namely fly around the world whensoever they wanted to, as long as they could afford it. These are intelligent people, one of them a university lecturer, and yet they seem to be completely oblivious to the catastrophe that is happening all around us. They also have young children, like I do, and so they ought at the very least to be doing something to ensure that they have a decent world to live in. It seems as if people will shut out any thoughts which might cause them to question the way they live, even if that means condemning their own children to a hell on earth in the not too distant future. How can intelligent people do that? Why are they not finding out everything they can about global warming and taking whatever steps they can to prepare themselves and their families for what is confronting us? If they think there is still some doubt, why don’t they use the internet to find out more?

When people ‘think’ like this, I’m really not sure that there is any point in trying to persuade them of anything directly, unless you just like arguing. But if your aim is to persuade them to change, I think a more subtle approach is needed. As far as the conversation goes, I think I should try to adopt a purely objective stance and behave as if I were gathering people’s views on the topic rather like a researcher might do. Perhaps I could ask – out of mere interest – whether global warming has any bearing upon the decisions they make about how often they fly, and follow this up with unprovocative questions simply designed to let them express their views on the topic, without any contentious input from me. It’s just possible that this might lead some people to look a bit closer at their own behaviour, and how it has a direct influence upon global warming. This in turn just might persuade them to rethink what they do.

The other tactic must surely be to walk your talk, and try to make it visible to others without ramming it down their throats or trying to win Brownie points for being such an exemplary greenie. In fact, if you don’t do this, you’ve no right to expect anyone to take anything you say seriously. For me this means more than doing things on a personal level – getting rid of the car, cutting down on flights (I still fly once every two years, but it’s better than the three or four flights I used to take each year), putting in your solar water heater, growing some of your own fruit and vegetables, and so on. It means doing something at the community level, and this, I think, is every bit as important as changing what you and your family do, and it’s much more difficult. And this, of course, is what the transition movement is trying to do. By putting on viewings of relevant documentaries, or talks on issues such as peak oil; by starting community gardens and supporting local, organic farmers; by starting local enterprises such as beekeeping, and by running practical courses to educate people, such as Ark Eden does; by showing people how much money you’ve saved on your electricity bills by installing a solar water heater; by doing things such as this we can point at real examples of what localisation is all about and show that it has very clear, visible benefits. In this way, we can try to get under the radar of people who might otherwise be unwilling to associate themselves with anyone green. Arguing the toss won’t get you anywhere.

Having said that, I don’t think there’s much chance of any substantial progress being made by relying on such piecemeal efforts. We’ll have gone beyond the point of no return, as far as global warming is concerned, long before enough people have made the necessary lifestyle changes to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Nevertheless, that’s not certain yet, so we have no choice but to align ourselves with the Earth and do what we can to repair some of the damage. I think Gramsci said something along the lines of being a pessimist in his head but an optimist in his heart. That thought serves as an effective way of keeping myself motivated.

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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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