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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Sense of Urgency?


This post is a revamp of an opinion peice that I wrote about a year ago, but it makes even more sense to me today in light of recent world events. 

Since Copenhagen was deemed to have a shallow and listless outcome, I still notice when I talk to people about the seriousness of climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, people still tend to not take me too seriously, for two main reasons:
  1. "If what you say is true, why isn't the government doing a lot more?", and,

  2. "If what you say is true, why aren't there people protesting in the streets? Why isn't there a really big, loud protest movement?"

Both seam like reasonable assumption, but only if they were true.  Even as recently as yesterday, I was talking to a friend who just could not connect the dots about climate change and deforestation in our state and why weather pattens were changing!

So, I believe that one reason for taking drastic public measures in the form of activism, street marches, protests, walk against warming etc. in addition to just making your life simpler, as best you can, is quite simply to create a sense of urgency in the general population. Because right now, that sense of urgency is not there at all, certainly not in the minds of some world leaders.  Mind you, that may change pretty soon if water gets scarce and food supplies dwindle as they are in some parts of the world.

For instance all the factual articles and warnings about prolonged droughts, record heat-waves, bush-fires, melting ice shelves and ice caps that are documented in national newspapers, in posts on environmental blogs similar to mine, and speeches by our political leaders are all thwarted by the mechanism that counteracts the creation of a sense of urgency by the usual means.  Below is a classic example of how this counter-intuitive mechanism works.

A while ago, I was working at in an office tower,  when there was an loud alarm. It sounded like it might be something serious, but I didn't know for sure. So I looked around to see how other people reacted. Since nobody seemed overly worried, I concluded that it was probably not a signal to leave the building, and so I continued working instead of running down the fire stairs Sure enough, it turned out to have been some technical glitch with the alarm system in the entire building. 

The same phenomenon occurs in the larger context. When ordinary people read about truly alarming stuff in the newspaper, hear it on the radio, or see it on TV, they will check around them to see how everybody else is reacting. If other people don't seem to be overly worried, they'll shrug, decide that the alarming report was probably exaggerated, and continue about their daily business. 

Only in the case of climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, we know it's not a technical glitch, and it's not an exaggeration, either. They really should be worried. By not being worried, right now, could turn out to be fatal for the entire human race.  And all this talk about saving the planet is rubbish.  What we really need is to save ourselves from ourselves.  The planet will get along just fine with out us, albeit in a slightly altered state, but with a lot less species inhabiting it.

It is this reason, in my humble opinion, is why we need to start behaving like people who really do believe they are living in the time of the greatest emergency mankind has ever faced. We need visible and drastic action because only visible and drastic action communicates to people that there is an emergency going on.

My reaction of late has been a strong one.  Not only am I trying to live a sustainable life, I am now acting as if there is a real emergency (there really is, you know), living a local diet, starting a sustainable living community group, reducing consumption further, and blatantly advertising my actions to my work colleagues, and jumping at the chance to get politically vocal any way I can.  If more people also begin to notice the emergency, then my work is done, and people will begin to act in a better way to help avert the climate crisis and other issues by voluntarily lowering their carbon footprints and consumption, or alternatively, the governments of our time acting on policy and legislating large cuts in emissions and change the way we use fossil fuels and rapidly depleting resources.  

Crisis over, the emergency really goes away and we can look future generations proudly in the eye without shame of inaction. I believe that in this point in time, this will be the only way we will be able to save ourselves, unless of course a global leader takes the reigns and leads us down the right path to avert the emergency.  But leadership is a rare commodity indeed in our current democracies.  It will be up to people like you and I to step up to the crease or plate and bat to a record score!  As individuals we can only do so much, but as a collective group of concerned global citizens we can achieve amazing things.

In fact, leadership is the only real renewable resource we have in our democracies!  Food for thought indeed.

What do you think?  Have I got it completely wrong, or am I on the right tack?  I would love to read your opinions about these issues.


Simple in France said...

Great post. I'm usually one to make changes on my own and write about it on my blog where anyone interested can read if they choose. I share the way I live with friends and family and don't try to force my ideas or lifestyle on anyone. I find that regardless of your political ideology that most people are not feeling the economic pinch, which helps them be a little more conservationist . . .because it often helps the pocket book.

That said, one area in which I think I (we) need to do more is local preparedness. I was reading an article on what's being done to prepare for climate change in France in "Science et Vie" magazine and beyond the national level, there is money available but not much action. The authors of the article (and I agree with them) argue that it's not a question of IF anymore. We will experience climate change--and we should start coming up with local plans for preparedness in addition to our global plans for cuts in carbon emissions.

I see the cuts in carbon emissions at this point as the same things as someone who already has cancer deciding to quit smoking--it certainly can't hurt and it's a good step, but significant damage is done and so other steps must be taken.

I think a lot of people just don't know what to do??? I'd like to organize locally, for example, but first I need to actually settle someplace!

PS--don't be offended if I blog on this topic soon as well. It's been on my mind (I'll link back to the discussion when I get to it).

Hathor's Bath said...

My family was very involved in the civil rights movements of the 60s, and my great-grandmother once said to me before her death "Protesting doesn't have the same message anymore - back then it was new, and it meant one thing to the minds of the politicians: 'Envision what would happen if we were angry'." Nowadays, protest is a sedate sort of coffee-get together thing. People do it feeling that it won't really do a whole lot of good - and it won't. People have been protesting the war for years but it hasn't stopped. Protest is too civilised.

So rather than words, I think actions work better; and rather than try to convince people who fundamentally refuse to be convinced, I find it's more useful for me to find people who feel the same way I do and we plot and plan together to be our own group, our own force. It means we have more energy to help ourselves, and help each other, rather than spend a bunch of energy on people who just don't want to see reason. This is especially important because all the people I know working toward change single or mothers on a low income; we don't have time to argue minutae, and we know that precious few people are going to help us anyway (indeed, it seems the easiest way to blame economy problems is to find a single mother and point). But then I find debates rather pointless anyway; I don't have anything to prove. I live the way I do because it feels right. And that's what we're aiming toward, in our own little community, whether our council, our boyfriends/husbands, our parents, our neighbours, our MPs agree with us or not.

Just my own tuppance.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Everything you state is so true. I sign petitions, join marches (very few where I live), live a low carbon life and buy offsets to reduce my footprint, but it just doesn't seem like enough. People just don't seem to get it. I live in Canada and our Prime Minister doesn't get it - Oil Sands - can you believe he supports them? I donate to Greenpeace and the Suzuki Foundation as well as Avaaz. These organizations seem to be doing their best to wake up the populace. Why don't people clue in that the increase in droughts, hurricanes, crop failures, etc. is directly linked to climate change. The science is there people - wake up!

Enjoy you blog immensely. Keep up the good work.


Walter said...

The problem with the climate alarmist is, they never listened to the other side of the story. The media and governments have said that the climate is changing, we have almost peaked our oil reserves. The problem is, the climate will always change, the scientist who have been saying that global warming is false cannot be heard. A lot of people still believe that oil comes from dinosaurs. Until the media and the government lets the naysayers have their day, you will not get the support you think you have. Of course those emails last year that change the temperatures and talked about censoring the naysayers hurt your cause more than anything. It also didn't help that the rest of the world was just looking for more money from the west.

Ria said...

It's funny that I read this post today, because I've been embroiled in an argument with people on a message board who are claiming the global warming and climate change are a load of hogwash. Claims that because local temperatures are down thus global warming is false. Supposed articles and reports that claim that all scientists are lying about global warming to prove a faulty assumption, but these reports contain psuedoscience and faulty reasoning at best. And try as I might, I have a hard time convincing people that there's a problem to be taken seriously without coming across as an alarmist whackjob using bad scare tactics.

I'm not living as clean and green as I could, but I do some things to help out, and I try to spread the word where I can, but it never feels like enough. Signing petitions, refuting claims, and I never feel like I'm actually making a bit of difference because those with money and those with ignorance will do what they want anyway.

It's an uphill battle, but you know, it's one worth fighting, so I'm going to keep fighting it. Even if it gets me into lousy arguments.

nevyn said...

Hi Gavin,

Great post. You're doing a wonderful job.

One thing. You made the comment that our leadrership was our only renewable source. It's all well and good to send a message to our leaders by booting them out of power but what about those who would replace them, would they be any better? Not in Austraia.

I would love to turf K Rudd out but look at the alternative - Tony Abbott and the Liberals. He went from Climate skeptic and blocking the ETS to a True Believer in a matter of months. What changed? Nothing other than the fact it's an election year.

Both hemispheres are suffering extreme weather conditions yet few seem to make the connection. It may well be a herd mentality or a matter of it not been their problem until they are directly affected in a major way.

Either way, we're running out of time and we don't have the luxury of waiting for the rest of the world to wake up to themselves.

egebs said...

I agree with much of what you say. It has been a few years since I have had the time to be as actively involved and informed as I would like. I think that most people just don't understand the connection between what the news is saying and what is really going on because it doesn't directly effect them. I also think that some of the technology being touted as green is in the long run going to hurt the environment more than help. Thank you for opening my eyes a little more

Linda Woodrow said...

Hi Gavin, this is a great post. Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, I was a very noisy anti-uranium, peace, and civil liberties protester. Then I had an epiphany on the steps of King George Square with a line of police in front of me, that I had to live these values myself, and if it truly was a better life, it would catch on. So for twenty-five years I've been creating a very decadent, very low footprint, very positively productive lifestyle. But for the last few years I've been building up to another epiphany that allowing this kind of life to be marginalised, well, keeps it marginalised, and we can't afford that. Your post put the finger right on why! Thanks!

Piebald Piper said...

Trying to narrow the focus to the valuable point you were addressing, I'd like to observe that protest has become an industry itself.
For example - people have expectations that for any serious issue, neighbors will go out and march or picket or rally - whatever they do to express themselves.
I always thought that 'walking for cancer' was a ridiculous displacement behaviour, but professionals run the shows these days and it's more important to dissonate the cognizance through participation- massage the meta- rather than actually inspect relevant details.
It's not about cancer- it's about coopting or creating a constituency so you can demand funding and obtain position as spokesman or negotiator or as a spoiler. Look- Arafat and Gore got Nobel prizes- for being permanent obstacles to sobriety.
Science is dispassionate. Only passion sells.
If there were say 'helicopter rides for agoraphobia' that might actually deal with the realities of the nominal topic, it would be great. I could really go for a global warming
What I can't go for is a fear franchise, a university gonk who studied activism and seeks a career in funding, a child who passed his SATs and demands I pay to hear him tell me how to run my life.
My frenzy has been whipped to death. My passions are played out.
They preyed. We bled.
As Pangloss said- it's all very nice but I must tend to my garden.

Chookie said...

Gavin, with bushfires and deep snowfalls shaking people up, I think the penny is dropping. Look at the number of people working on vegie gardens!

The answer to the questions people ask you is simple: Nobody's quite sure what to do, particularly at government level, and there are lots of competing demands. Same reason we still have indigenous disadvantage in this country. (I am assuming you are not conversing with Nick Minchin!)

dixiebelle said...

Sad thing is, even when faced with an emergency situation, many people will drive or walk on by, because they think, "Someone else is taking care of it"... there are many reasons why people react this way. Luckily, there are many people who will act, people who go out of their way to help others, people who volunteer and spend their own time making a difference... and luckily same can be said for the emergency the Earth is facing, we just need more people willing to act!

Joanne said...

Gavin, this is a very thought-provoking post. I like your example of the alarm going off and people look around to see how others are reacting. This scenario plays out in many situations I've seen.
The thing is, the attitudes towards climate and sustainable practises are symptomatic of a much larger, societal illness. Some other symptoms are widespread violence and rage and personal relationship breakdown on a massive scale. The entire fabric of society is breaking down. The so called 'global economy' ensures the problems are being felt worldwide. Greed and indifference towards the state of the planet are just a part of it. And don't forget that in many countries the majority of the population is barely subsisting. They don't have the luxury of thinking for the planet's future.
I do have a sense of urgency and believe that a time of unprecedented change is coming but that change will not be by a mass 'conversion' of lifestyle. I feel for you in trying to get your message out and understand your frustration at the indifference as I am involved in a similar work from a different perspective.I won't go into it any further here, as someone else's blog is not the time or place.

Sustainably Chic said...

Well said! Unfortunately, people don't want to be inconvenienced (not intended to play on the movie) with having to think about things like how much energy is used to process, package, and transport their food & other resources. Nor do they want to think about where their garbage goes. It seems like a natural thought process to me to be aware of things like that, and I am still shocked when I encounter people that don't care (happens daily)... Saddening, disheartening, and very very scary. We are in an emergency situation....