“We [should] tell new stories of the dream, not the nightmares. We must describe where we want to go, such as happier lives, and better cities.” ~ Per Espen Stoknes
“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”
~ Czesław Miłosz
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
~ William Faulkner
Last Friday, I attended Guy McPherson’s “Abrupt Climate Change” presentation in Vancouver. There was nothing new to me as I’ve been reading and watching McPherson for a while and had the chance to interact with people in a few closed groups who have considered and acknowledged the very real possibility of abrupt climate change and that extinction (of humans and other species) is much more near than what most people think it is.
I have to confess that I’m torn between two approaches on how to speak about climate change: each has its value and each has its downsides too.
Having recently completed two MOOCs on the topic (Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C world must be avoided, by the World Bank and Making Sense of Climate Science Denial by University of Queensland), I have seen the effects of real and active denial, the painful and frustrating futility of using science as a tool to explain things to those who have already made up their minds about the subject and the painful inefficacy of trying to push “solutions” that don’t match the size of the predicament.
My compassionate and nurturing nature tells me that labelling and accusing people are not good approaches to achieve anything. Reports from both psychology and sociology (see references at the bottom) show that people tend to strengthen their beliefs when they feel them being challenged by science: more evidence just doesn’t make the point!
On the other hand, I know how complex is the predicament: it is not “only” climate change, but its complex interaction with so many basic systems such as air, water, food, biodiversity…the world doesn’t have “just” one problem, there are no easy fixes and there may not even be solutions at all…
Telling the truth, as Guy’s points out, is the responsibility of those who know how bad things are. Telling the truth is also a way (probably the only one) to get people serious about something, to understand that we don’t have “a window” that seems to never close. It is not “somebody else’s” responsibility: it is all of us, together and individually.
There were many things I didn’t agree with McPherson: he was not presenting “evidence” but his interpretation from different studies and findings, some of which are difficult to back up.
Having study the science myself, I don’t think there is enough evidence at many levels of things already happening today. With that only there is no need for exaggeration of facts.
At one point he mentioned that the widespread call for reducing impact/cutting emissions was misleading. A sort of call from the elites so we all go on austerity and they can consume more. He quoted Jevon’s paradox which says that efficiency actually doesn’t reduce but increments the use of a technology or energy source: when light bulbs are made more efficient, people tend to let lights on more often and for longer periods and the same happens with cars, etc.
This, however, doesn’t mean that we can take decisions because they are ethically right: I don’t really care whether there is a conspiracy or an elite trying me to reduce my meat consumption or stopping me from buying a car. I do it because I believe these things are not only unsustainable but inefficient and ethically wrong.
Guy’s message was on love and pursuing excellence while not getting attached to the outcomes…it reminds me of Buddhism and Permaculture, but it also reminds me of old common sense: we are all mortal; we know we only have this life and we all know we are continuously planning and dreaming as if we will live forever, as if we can guarantee being here tomorrow, next month, next year…
However, we still embark on projects and dreams…
The point is: life is taking risks and making choices…whether we are or not in the brink of extinction as a species or not…all of us and all those we love so much will eventually die: it won’t matter then whether we were “right” about climate change or soil depletion…what will matter will be how we lived our lives: and even this, will only matter to us and those we affected with our choices.
Should we approach “regular” people, policy makers and politicians with nightmares supported by science or should we approach them through dreams of a better world?
Looking at the results is difficult to say: if we don’t speak the truth, those who know will look at us and think we are naïve or even delusional about the many predicaments around…if we say what we know and insist in the evidence, many will stop listening and will continue hiding their heads in the ground…
I wonder if there is a way to speak the truth and still dream out loud…without attachment to the outcomes, because at the end, what will matter is how we lived our lives.
“A Psychologist Explains Why People Don’t Give a Shit About Climate Change”: http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/a-psychologist-explains-why-people-dont-give-a-shit-about-climate-change/
Nyhan, B., Reifler, J., Richey, S., & Freed, G. L. (2014). Effective messages in vaccine promotion: a randomized trial. Pediatrics, 133(4), e835-e842. Link to PDF
Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2010). When corrections fail: The persistence of political misperceptions. Political Behavior, 32(2), 303-330. Link to PDF
Hart, P. S., & Nisbet, E. C. (2011). Boomerang effects in science communication: How motivated reasoning and identity cues amplify opinion polarization about climate mitigation policies. Communication Research, 0093650211416646. Link to PDF