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Saving the Planet

from Asad Zaman and the WEA Pedagogical Blog

A recent and amazing article by John H Richardson, titled “When the end of human civilisation is your day-job”, describes how many climate imagesscientists suffer from psychological trauma because their studies lead to the inescapable conclusion that human beings are destroying the planet, and climate change will create conditions making it impossible for the human civilisation to survive. There are two strategies currently being pursued with regard to climate change. One is the ostrich strategy of denial, which claims that there is no such thing, or if there is, it is part of natural geological processes rather than being created by human beings. The second is the band-aid strategy which seeks to make small efforts at relief of major visible problems being caused by climate change. Neither strategy has any hope of success at saving the human civilisation in its current form.

The roots of the problem run deep, and the changes we need to make are very radical. One of the most fundamental teachings of all traditional societies is the subordination of personal interests to the social or collective good. During the “Great Transformation” that led to the creation of modern society, this teaching was turned on its head. Individuals were encouraged to pursue personal interests even at the expense of society. As this philosophy gradually gained strength, many institutions which depended on social commitments were destroyed. Key examples are families and communities, previously built on lifetime commitments, which have been replaced by temporary social relationships based on expediency in advanced societies. The idea that excessive and wasteful consumption was immoral, especially when others were in need has been replaced by the idea of sacredness of property. That is those who have are perfectly justified in flaunting their luxurious lifestyles, while the rest of us struggle to imitate them. The breakdown of barriers to greed led to a mad race to consume more and more without any concern as to the effects on others or on the planet. As a result, income inequalities have become greater than ever seen in human history, and the lifestyles of the super-rich are unimaginably wasteful of planetary resources.   read more

 


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  1. Nancy Sutton
    August 19, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    This is what I ‘commented’ at the WEA article in response to Dave Taylor’s excellent comment. I posted similar sentiments here… and elsewhere :) Am I wrong? Is this the proverbial bottleneck?

    “I think one of the greatest problems is that ‘common people’ cannot understand academic jargon. Dave, could you explain your idea in ordinary English? using minimal number of words? utilizing a metaphorical ‘picture’ of some sort or other? I know it’s important to convert your fellow experts, but that is useless unless a ‘picture’ of the possibilities (feasibilities, affordabilities, desirability, etc.) is created. I’m thinking the marketers’ ally…soundbites, or at least a sound paragraph. A pr guy once said that when you change the ‘picture’ that people see, you change the situation.

    Communication is the problem, I think…. not lack of possible, feasible, affordable, desirable alternatives that appeal to the basic values of both left and right. (And it’s the ‘values’ that sell… not the facts, per G. Lakoff, et al) Let’s get ‘selling’! :)”

  2. August 20, 2015 at 6:24 am

    I agree that the fundamental issue is one of salesmanship. But the problem is that the big money is advertising and selling the wrong set of values. We are not working in a free space, but rather in a fiercely contested battleground, where huge amounts of resources belong to the enemy. We need a thoughtful, carefully designed person-to-person campaign which bypasses normal media.

  3. August 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for this comment and link Asad. As an Earth scientist and critic of the economic regime that is wrecking our home, it landed emotionally very strongly with me. A lot of scientists are carrying grief that they cannot publicly express.

  4. August 20, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    I think Nancy is wrong: the bottleneck is to do with the difficulty of explaining complex pictures in words and words not triggering the visual memory of people who think mainly in words and linear graphs or (as specialists) lack relevant experience. Like Geoff, I found Asad’s comment here very helpful. I’ve responded to Nancy as follows:

    “Nancy, I am not an academic but I have been familiar with the ‘fog index’ for forty years. That hasn’t made life easier. Communication is indeed the problem, but not in the way you think. It is more like the familiar ‘gestalt’ picture of a vase. Some people can see it as two people facing each other. Others can’t, but if they kept looking, eventually they would.

    “I see two ways in which an economy can be run, as different as steam railways and personal transport. Those still living in the steam age couldn’t imagine the future value of the cars made practicable by petrol and diesel engines.

    “You asked for a metaphor. I used the metaphor of two different types of “pumping” to compare a bank-based economy with one based on personal credit cards. The banks draw money out of the economy while creating low value wealth, whereas credit cards pump wealth into the economy as we work to pay off our debts.

    “So, I’m an old man. Perhaps the city dwelling “common people” of today are unfamiliar with the hand-operated water pumps which used to stand on village greens, and with the historical origin of steam engines in draining mines?

    “So it is ‘values’ that sell? To a scientist, necessity speaks louder than desire. With the love of money dominating economies, the need is to motivate change, not satisfaction. Since writing to Asad I’ve addressed this issue elsewhere:

    http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/08/18/taxes-for-revenue-are-obsolete/comment-page-1/#comment-732357.

  5. August 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

    The situation is desperate and the awareness of the magnitude of the problem abysmally low. I think something like the consciousness raising campaigns for feminism carried out in the 70’s needs to be implemented by the public. Meetings in every neighborhood to raise awareness and a grassroots campaign — governments have been captured by corporations.

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