Changing hearts and minds.

 I was reminded at a recent dinner table discussion how hard it is to change attitudes.  One person simply didn't want to talk about climate change and all that doom and gloom, it was all too hard and in any case he'd be dead by then.  Another accepted the situation but also didn't want to think about it, technology would find a way, it always had so why worry.

 There's no point banging on about the details of climate change, there's no argument any more (if there ever was), the scientific evidence is clear and unequivocal.  It's also clear that doom and gloom about climate change won't get us anywhere, people simply switch off, it's all seen as too hard, and it's certainly much too hard for politicians who only think in four-year election time frames.

 Solutions are already available, so that's not really the issue, the problem is how to bring them about.  There's firm scientific consensus that a two degree rise in temperature is already inevitable.  There is also firm agreement that it can only be kept to that level by taking drastic action now to limit the emissions that are causing this rise in temperature. Most realistic observers think such action is unlikely, and that temperatures could rise by up to four degrees (or even more) with even greater and more unknown consequences.  

 Many people confuse long term climate change with normal fluctuations in the weather and don't seem to understand the scientific method.  Based on the evidence scientists make their best hypotheses to explain the different facts in different places.  When more evidence becomes available, they adjust their hypotheses accordingly. It's a confusing, constantly adjusted business of incorporating new evidence and can give the impression that scientists are all over the place, but anything said in scientific forums is given rigorous academic scrutiny by their peers, so that anything that has broad scientific consensus has to be taken much more seriously than just another shock jock opinion.

 Some serious observers think that refusal to accept the facts requires a conscious and wilful misunderstanding of the science.  Whether or what to do about it, and the ability of governments to do something about it, is open to debate, but the facts aren't!

Most people let themselves off the hook by saying things like,'the real problem is lack of political will'.  The lament of lack of political will has been described by one writer as 'the mother of all diversions,that it ispolitical rhetoric at its best, that it diverts attention from what's really going on', and another writer says that 'lack of political will just means that the rich and powerful have continued to act according to their own narrow interests.' 

 Lack of will is also a convenient excuse for those who blame ignorance and stupidity for the failure to act rather than seeing it for what it is, the exercise of power by those who want to maintain their profitable status quo. 

A direct comparison can be made with the change in attitudes to smoking where the shift from smoking being accepted as totally normal to what is now is seen, in Australia at least, as being quite unacceptable.  I grew up in the Thirties with most people smoking, there were even ads in magazines stating that  'More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette', and it wasn't until 1964 that the US Surgeon General laid down the gauntlet by announcing definitively that smoking causes lung cancer.  The people making fortunes out of selling cigarettes have fought a rear guard action for the last fifty years, maintaining in the face of all the evidence that there still wasn't 100% proof that cigarettes affected your health, and it's still going on.

But society in general gradually became educated, more and more people became convinced that smoking was not only bad for your health, they also became aware of the enormous public health cost that resulted from smoking.  And now it's not only considered anti-social to smoke in public places or at work, it's also enforced by law. 

This was a major behavioural and societal shift brought about in less than fifty years. A direct parallel can be made between the people who currently profit enormously from the sale of coal here and overseas, and the cynical people still advertising, making and selling cigarettes. 

I think it's going to be a bit like this with climate change, only much quicker because whereas the health of smokers deteriorates slowly,
the imperatives of higher temperatures and rising sea levels are going to force the rate of change to be more rapid. 

Figures showing how the Gross National Product is increasing all the time (and by implication how much better off we all are) are totally misleading as they include the costs of air pollution, the health costs of lung cancer from smoking, traffic accidents and the cost of cleaning up oil spills and things like that; the worse things are in an environmental sense, the higher the GNP, hardly a good measure of happiness and well being! 

We have to counter the myth that we have a duty to consume more, that we must all talk up spending so that retail consumption will feed the economy.  We have to learn that you can't solve the problems of a growing economyandclimate change simply by getting bigger and consuming more, we have to learn to live well by living well within our means.  It's not that hard, living within our means only means living withless than excess!

A good start in reducing consumption is to remember some of the old country rules: Don't use more water than flows into the dam, eat the apples don't cut down the orchard, don't eat the seed corn, don't kill the brood stock, throw back the little ones, spend the interest not the principal, balance the budget, diversify, don't put all your eggs in the same basket, conserve, don't consume as though there is no tomorrow.  The rules are age old, intuitive, everyday ones, even children can appreciate them, and those of us born in the Great Depression will remember hearing them from their grandparents. 

We have to learn to trust our instincts about any economic system that needs endless growth and ever increasing consumption to support itself in a world with finite resources; it's simply notaxiomatic that  'they'll find a way' out of this dilemma!  Why should we trust the people who caused the Global Financial Crisis by selling those mad stock exchange 'products' and insisting on growth at all costs? 
These are the same people who caused the crises in Greece, Spain and Ireland.  When you hear words like progress and growth being used, you should assume, unless proven otherwise, that they are being used in a manipulative, self serving way that is the opposite of building a sustainable way forward for the different times that are coming. 

Don't be put off by those people who agree with you and admit to all the problems but who then say that we can have both if we keep on growing and creating more wealth.  I'm certainly not advocating sitting in the dark eating lentils, we must maintain our high standard of living, maintain the internet with broad band connections, our research institutes and universities, symphony orchestras, the ABC and good education and health services, along with efficient, clean and economical public transport, all of this without consuming to excess.  Stop thinking of yourself as a consumer, you are a citizen, a parent, a lover, a friend and a guardian first before you are a consumer!          

Don Gazzard
April 2014.

 

 

 

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