Generic calls for 'action' on climate change keep us exactly where we are - RSA

Generic calls for 'action' on climate change keep us exactly where we are

Blog 1 Comments

  • Climate change
  • Social brain

You may have heard the news that today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change once again highlighted that the potential impacts of climate change on humans are likely to be significantly worse than a slap in the face with a wet fish. The cartoon below* tells you everything you need to know about today's announcement:

Embedded image permalink

The BBC led with a suitably troubling headline saying that Climate Change impacts are likely to be overwhelming. To be clear, these overwhelming impacts are not about a few cheeky if somewhat devastating storms, droughts and floods that we can handle with some good emergency services and a stiff upper lip. The relatively neglected point that today's report serves to detail is the concomitant impact on our food, water and energy supplies, and likely consequences relating to disease, poverty, inequality, immigration and war.

One should take care not to sound alarmist (even if it's bl**dy alarming!) but it is worth considering that such impacts are not projected to take place at some point in the distant future in a far away land, but coming soon, one way or the other, to you, your family and friends, in a city near you.

I am not sure how best to respond today, not least because I'm preparing for tonight's event, but I did want to take this chance to say a few things off the cuff:

  • Please don't say: "The time to act is now!" Generic calls for 'Action' are utterly futile. Please, if you think we should act, have the courage to stick your neck out and say how you think we should act, keeping in mind our competing commitments to energy security and prices, and economic growth.
  • Please don't blame the politicians. That is a weak willed form of projection. Advise, encourage, threaten, cajole, heckle if you have to, but don't blame them as if they had nothing to do with you, or as if they knew what to do, but are too feckless or lazy to follow through. It's not like that at all; most politicians don't even properly understand that the core issue is about global fossil fuel production, not reducing national emissions. If climate change is a pivotal political issue for you, let them know, but also help them see a constructive way to act that is not merely tokenistic.
  • Please don't blame the climate sceptics or deniers. At least they are consistent, and many give this issue far more of their intellectual and emotional energy than their opponents. You could blame the media for giving them too much air time, but I believe it's the people calling for 'action' who have no idea what that means that really keep us where we are. Our report on 'stealth denial' begs a lot of methodological questions, but we are confident that the majority of the population can be described as broadly accepting the reality of the problem, but denying (technically, disavowing) the related emotions, agency and responsibility that we collectively need to acknowledge and build on. In other words, the deeper and subtler forms of denial are the real problem.
  • Please don't over-simplify. Climate change is complicated, but not impossibly so. I believe seeing it as a problem with seven dimensions (science, law, technology, money, democracy, culture & behaviour)  is a useful map on which people can see themselves, and their scope to act more clearly.
  • Please read our recent report: A New Agenda on Climate Change. It may have flaws, but it does try hard to get beyond all the generic calls to action that you'll hear today.

Dr Jonathan Rowson is Director of the Social Brain Centre at the RSA. He tweets @jonathan_rowson

*(I haven't able to track the original source for this image, but will gladly do so if somebody else can.)

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  • It's amazing, and sad, how much of this fits for generic calls for action generally. I see many parallels with the regular cycle generic calls to end hunger, for example.

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