Pessimism, optimism, pt 3

Robert Butler of the Ashden Directory, one of the best bloggers in the arts/ecology zone, has an excellent article in the Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine about the high level of public indifference to climate change, suggesting that our strategies are all wrong.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, the authors of “The Death of
Environmentalism”, recently wrote that, “Global warming remains a
low-priority issue, hovering near the bottom of the Pew Centre for
People and the Press’s top 20 priorities. By contrast, public concern
about gasoline and energy prices has shifted dramatically.” 

no surprise that most people aren’t listening. Some years ago, NOP
conducted a survey where they went out into the street and told people
that they were going to mention a string of words and as soon as people
heard each one they had to say whether their energy levels went up or
down. The word “environment” was included in the list. “The horrible,
horrible conclusion of this survey”, recalled Jonathan Porritt,
“was that for the vast majority of people the mere mention of the word
‘environment’ sent their energy levels plummeting downwards.”

Instead he quotes Buckminster Fuller: “You don’t change things by
fighting the existing reality, you change things by building a new
model that makes the existing one obsolete.” People respond to a positive vision of our future life, not dire warnings of the impending grimness. Read it here.

Buoyed by the internet generation, there are many who have great faith that entrepreneurial creativity can dig us out of this. The difficulty is not so much the lack of new models though, but the lack of success of those that are being worked on. There are dreams like Winy Maas’s brilliant new city in Seoul, but in reality those dreams are proving extremely hard to make concrete. Not so long back, Robert wrote glowingly about Arup’s great plans for the new eco-city of Dongtan in China, arguably the best practical blueprint yet for mass urban living. But plans for building the city appear to be slipping as economic will disappears. The site remains as “sodden farmland”.

Both the warnings of scientists and environmentalists and the creators of new models are frustrated by the public’s indifferent response. People feel too disempowered, too fatalistic or too apathetic to embrace change. If the public, the activists and the dreamers are unable to create the energy for a solution, maybe it’s a failure of leadership. 

In yesterday’s interview about the need for artists to engage in his campaign, Bill McKibben invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill. Now that was possibly an attempt to flatter us Brits, but intentional or not, there is a point there. Churchill’s depiction of himself as the lone voice speaking out against Nazism in the 1930s may be a historical exaggeration, but he was one of several politicians who took a vocal stand though initially unfashionable stand against the appeasement of Nazism. 

Secretary of State for Climate Change Ed Miliband, as reported below, has been repeatedly calling for a popular movement about global warming, to give politicians like him a base on which to act. In his post on the Gaza conflict, Matthew Taylor points to the leadership deficit  in Israel that allows the hawks to speak the loudest. When a Secretary of State for Climate Change starts asking Jarvis Cocker to lead a popular movment on climate change so that he can have the freedom to act, are we also suffering from a leadership deficit?

The Closest Packing of Spheres, Buckminster Fuller, 1980, Chrome-plated steel rods, acrylic spheres.
Sebastian + Barquet Gallery

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