Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is George Monbiot a Vicar in Disguise?

It is a disgrace and a tragedy how the attention of most of us has moved away from climate change in the last couple of years.
There was a period in the late nougthies when some momentum for action was building up. Climate change became an acceptable subject for a politician or non-geek to bring up, and to bring up seriously.
Then somehow the plot was lost. The Copenhagen summit was clearly a disastrous piece of mismanagement. Shorter term hardships took over the news agenda. The lobbyists for the status quo won some ground when they caught some scientists displaying bias. Some politicians caught a cold, notably Kevin Rudd, and that affected the courage of others. And it snowed.
It is pathetic really. The human race is playing a Russian roulette game with its own future, and we seem to think that is OK. Now those few politicians daring to act bravely, such as Chris Huhne in the UK (glossing over his apparent failings in his personal life) can be accused by some dinosaur of “destroying British industry” without mainstream media even bothering to balance the story.
I am an optimist for the longer term. Mercifully, liberal types seem to be able to control the agenda of schools to some extent, and within ten years a generation which has had climate dangers instilled in them throughout their education will start to become opinion formers.
I also believe that events often shape public attitude more than a steady diet of evidence and trends. Look at what Fukushima has done for the nuclear debate (erroneously, in my opinion). My guess is that sometime in the next five years a similar moment will change the climate debate for ever. Of course I would not want to see a US city washed away, or world scale food riots, or some other undeniable visible piece of doom-mongering evidence. But perhaps that is what we need to wake us up.
In the meantime, I have some advice for those trying to influence public opinion in favour of action. You are losing your argument (our argument) partly because you are so boring.
Look at the front page article in the Guardian Weekly on 3-9 June. Some watchdog has measured emissions and they have gone up. That leads to some obscure, caveated conclusions about global temperature rise far into the future. Everyone is admonished for ignoring this. We are not yet doomed, but will be unless we pull our socks up, and fast.
If I have read this sort of thing once, I have read it 100 times. And it strikes me that it reminds me of the sort of sermon that I had the misfortune to hear from old fashioned vicars through my childhood, and, sadly, still now in many Churches. The vicar sees all sorts of poor behaviour around him. He concludes things were better in the good old days, and we all admonished for this. We are not yet doomed, but we will be unless we pull our socks up, and fast.
How tedious. No wonder such vicars lose their audience, and the whole Church seems in interminable decline. Where is the balance? Where is the sign of being able to be credible with any sort of target audience? Where is the new message? Where is the practical idea of action? Where is the motivation of hope?
Sorry, climate awareness lobbyists, you fall into the same trap. You are not “one of us”. You harry and preach. You forget the positive side, the hope, and the action. Seriously, do you really think we will all sign up to living in villages and growing our own little crops again? Forget it! The climate solution will come from innovations not deprivations, and such solutions are possible. We need to support their urgent development, not just gripe and quote private Fraser “We are doomed”! I do still read George Monbiot, but honestly I can’t say I enjoy it.
So, just as some of us have discovered Church communities and Priests who can tell their story in an engaging way, I hope that one day such people will emerge to help wake us all up from our Russian roulette game. A new narrative from a new generation of preachers is required urgently. Can you help?
While on the subject of religious metaphors for modern day challenges, I saw another one this week. I see a parallel between divorce and debt default.
A marriage is a serious commitment. When we make our vows we should mean them. If we hit difficulties we should try very hard to overcome them. Divorce has to be a last resort, or at least not a first resort. We also know that once we are divorced we are somehow diminished, and further vows will not carry so much weight. Then there are establishment figures, notably Priests, conservatives, and the self-righteous, who can hold the protection of the institution above the interests of individuals. Divorce is sometimes right, and the establishment can be slow to accept this (it is still illegal in the Philippines, and in Malta, though the latter country held a recent referendum promising change).
It is the same way with taking out loans. They are serious. You shouldn’t just default when things start to turn troublesome. A defaulting party becomes diminished, and credit rating should reflect that. Yet, despite all that, default can be right, when the alternative simply provides unending hardship and misery. And establishment figures, here represented by banks, and the last to accept that.
Maybe our banks and some of our politicians need to read up about the history of divorce laws and practices, and their consequences to individuals. Even the history of defaults could help them – in Argentina, things didn’t turn out so bad, after all. That way, a lot of Greeks, Irish, and Portuguese could sleep easier in their beds and face a brighter future.

1 comment:

Simon Foster said...

Graham, very much agree about the dynamics of getting people to take action on global warming. Everyone hates being preached to, or told they're all doomed, or that at least the future will be horrible. They want a +ve message that inspires them to action, otherwise they switch off.

Another aspect, I think, is that people are rightly suspicious of the dirigiste attempts to impose global solutions which are often advocated by climate change gurus. The same applies in other arenas too, e.g. the banking and debt crisis. The way the human race reacts to challenges is often via an evolutionary process of numerous mistakes and dead ends, from which useful contributions emerge, almost by accident. This is the big lesson of Darwin and of the c. 20th century failed experiment of Socialism.

In this context it strikes me that Germany's wrong-headed rejection of nuclear power may just, paradoxically, turn out to be what humanity needs. Here we have a country that will now be forced to wring the last drop of energy out of renewables. They will have to apply all their considerable, German ingenuity to the problems of intermittent energy production and storage. While I regret that their carbon footprint will inevitably shrink more slowly because they deny themselves the nuclear option, they will be a serious proving ground for what renewables can do and at what cost.

And I have to say, if there is one country I would trust to take a major gamble on engineering their way out of a problem, it is Germany.