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About the Author

Giedre Steikunaite
Student (London, United Kingdom)

Currently an editorial intern at the New Internationalist magazine ("The people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice"), I'm studying journalism and contemporary history in London, UK. Freelancing for various publications, back in Lithuania I was a reporter for a current affairs weekly Panorama. Development, climate change, and social issues are my main topics of interest.

Post

Requiem For a Species

Published 12th May 2010 - 17 comments - 1849 views -

Yesterday I attended a sobering event called Facing up to Climate Change. It was a discussion with Clive Hamilton about his new book, Requiem for a Species. Clive Hamilton is Australian author, public intellectual and professor of public ethics.

The sub-title of the book is Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change. On his website, Mr Hamilton explains: “Sometimes facing up to the truth is just too hard. There have been any number of urgent scientific reports in recent years emphasizing just how dire the future looks and how little time we have left to act. But around the world only a few have truly faced up to the facts about global warming. This book is about why we have ignored those warnings, so that now it is too late.”

Too late.

“We should stop believing we can get out of this,” Mr Hamilton said. We can’t.

“We should stop pretending it will go away.” It won’t.

A common hope that “everything will be OK” is misleading. “We shouldn’t give people hope that climate change is still avoidable.” It is not.

“Every new study on climate change paints a bleaker and bleaker picture,” he continued. And yet we are still insufficiently psychologically involved with climate change.

“The future looks impossible,” said scientist Kevin Anderson, on whose work Mr Hamilton relies in his book.

Is this paranoia? It surely isn’t as bad yet, now is it?

Well, there has been a rise in climate change denial (think Climategate, the hacked scientific documents) at the time when scientific research is proving that the situation is worse than was thought before.

And yet the world has been too slow to react. Why is that? That’s what the book is about. Mr Hamilton explained: climate change deniers simply reject facts (and climate scientists simply reject deniers). Others respond with maladaptive strategies, such as “If I don’t care I won’t feel bad”, blame-shifting (“it’s US and China’s fault”), diversion of thoughts to avoid guilt (“I’ll change my lightbulbs and recycle more”) or by good old indifference. We’re just too sensitive to admit the truth.

Another problem, Mr Hamilton said, is that homo nonsapiens tends to respond to immediate danger only, ignoring signs of threat until a disaster strikes (think WW2). So our species may not be as rational as we claim to be, and unfortunately only a huge climate change-related disaster could sober us up.

I felt totally confused. Where is my bit? What can individuals do to prevent our species from self-destruction?

Firstly, face the situation, Mr Hamilton said. Yes, we have to continue recycling, reducing our consumption, discussing the issues in public, but what we really need is a fundamental social change and bing-bang politics. We have to think how we will adapt to inevitable changes that global warming is preparing for us. And grieve for our lost future.

(All this is scary. I would like to believe it’s exaggeration. But what if it’s not…)

Here’s Mr Hamilton on his book and climate change:

 

 

Photo: oddsock via flickr


Category: Environment | Tags:


Comments

  • Benno Hansen on 12th May 2010:

    Interesting.

    I did a similar thing at TH!NK2: Our psychological issues. Here the approach is more about why people go into denial to begin with rather than how.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 12th May 2010:

    Benno, thanks for sharing the link. Excellent post I must say! Our species is really a character, isn’t it. Confirmation bias, selective information, “This reusable bag means I’m morally superior to you”...

    Mr Hamilton talked about another example of resisting the truth. Apparently, in Australia climate scientists said the sea levels were rising. The country’s environment minister expressed concern. A national paper (he mentioned it was Murdoch’s property..) responded by putting a picture of some random guy Lee, all tanned, sitting on a beach. The caption ran: “Lee says the sea is nor rising.”

    So many Lees out there. (no offence, the problem is not the name!)


  • Lara Smallman on 12th May 2010:

    Very insightful post, thank you. I was thinking a while ago about how much press coverage on climate change has decreased. That directly effects how much or how little the public talk about it - how to get it back up to its prime, like it was in October and November in the build up to COP15, I don’t know….


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 12th May 2010:

    Thank you Lara, I appreciate it.

    What if it’s true, what if only a sudden disaster can wake us up?

    As Benno wrote in his TH!NK2 post linked above, “As members of Homo sapiens we’re hard wired to “fight, flight of freeze” in the face of danger. But that’s meant for “savanna dangers”, not slowly creeping camouflaged dangers like climate change.”

    So this slowly creeping camouflaged danger is already around the corner, and yet I’m afraid we will wait until we shake its hand to start worrying seriously.


  • Carmen Paun on 12th May 2010:

    As I already said in another comment to another entry, I don’t think we can fight climate change. We have to adapt. Also, I don’t think it’s denial when saying that climate has changed before in the Earth history,this is not the first time. But I don’t like the panicking attitudes: “Oh my God, what are we going to do?” We’ll adapt. Panic is not the best advisor. And I think the process of adaptation has started. Slowly, but it did. I don’t think we need so much more media coverage on climate change because people start being fed up with it. Instead, we need to start talking less and adapting more.


  • Benno Hansen on 12th May 2010:

    Carmen,

    What makes you think climatologists are unaware of the fact that climate has changed before, in cycles?


  • Ivaylo Vasilev on 12th May 2010:

    Social sciences have a very simple description: it’s a collective action problem. On the one hand, people who, say, pollute do not bear the full costs of this pollution (these spread to everybody else on the planet). Similarly, any one individual takes an individual decision whether to recycle or “help the planet” (look up george carlin’s stand up video). Considering the billions of others who are required to make an actual impact, this individual’s efforts are plainly futile if he or she expects his or her choice to make a difference (cause it won’t). That’s why people don’t recycle.

    That’s also why we haven’t curbed emissions - every single country has incentives to pollute as much as they can. Doom race. We’re probably not as rational as Anthony Downs (1957) seems to have thought - by saying people perhaps vote because they take into consideration the outcome that would happen if nobody voted, i.e. in accordance with their performance, nobody would vote, and this outcome would be the collapse of democracy and thus every citizen would rationally vote. Similarly here, we don’t seem to realize the doom of climate change. I am not sure, should we?


  • Carmen Paun on 12th May 2010:

    @Benno: I don’t think they are unaware, but I never heard an explanation saying: “yes, climate has changed before, but here it what makes it different right now”. All I get from all sides is this panicking movement and I don’t feel we can think straight in such an atmosphere.


  • Benno Hansen on 12th May 2010:

    What makes the temperature rise shown in the “hockey sticks different from past natural rises is the correlation with (and causation) with man made greenhouse gas emissions. Please take a good look at these three graphs before repeating your plea for an explanation anywhere again wink


  • Benno Hansen on 12th May 2010:

    Also, Carmen, here is a playlist of some really good youtube videos explaining climate change. If you only want to watch one video, choose Sir David Attenborough: The Truth About Climate Change which answers exactly your question in just 2 minutes and 44 seconds.


  • Carmen Paun on 12th May 2010:

    Thanks a lot Beno, I will check out the links you provided me with. I am not a scientist nor a climatologist and I don’t pretend to be one. But I do care about my right to have an opinion different than other people’s opinions, no matter how silly or uninformed that might seem.


  • Carmen Paun on 12th May 2010:

    Just had a look at the last video you are talking about. In order to make myself clear, since I realize I didn’t do it in my first comment: I don’t doubt man-made climate change. What I do doubt is that we can completely stop it now. And what I dislike is the panicking attitude around climate change. Yes, it’s a huge issue and it’s threatening our lives. But let’s take a deep breath of polluted air and try to think about solutions and how to mainstream them. I don’t function good under panic, I don’t know how many people do, that’s why I plead for a different attitude on this issue.


  • Benno Hansen on 13th May 2010:

    I don’t think it’s panic to postpone the decisions meant to be taken at COP15 in December 2009 to 2011 where ever that COP is held.

    But yes, it is probably true we can’t/shouldn’t completely null the anthropogenic climate change (ie Predictions of irreversible, unavoidable climate changes). If what you are talking about is you think forcing a shift to clean, renewable energy is “panic” then I disagree! Or what is it?


  • Johan Knols on 13th May 2010:

    Evolution is unforgiving. Any species that does not adapt has to disappear. Homo nonsapiens might be in the back of the queue, but can’t escape its fate.
    (This does not mean that we should give up trying!)


  • Carmen Paun on 13th May 2010:

    No, Benno, what I call panic is the attitude: “oh my God, what are we going to do?” And then you get movies like 2012. Forcing the shift to clean, renewable energy is exactly the adaptation I was talking about in my first comment. But I think we do need to keep in mind that this shift takes time, it’s a worldwide system that needs to be changed. Maybe panicking serves for some people to adopt the changes faster, but it’s annoying for me.


  • Clare Herbert on 14th May 2010:

    It’s never too late.


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 16th May 2010:

    Carmen, I think this panic can be understood in two ways. One is to sit in a corner screaming “oh my god, we’re doomed!” and preparing to die. That does not really benefit anyone. The other one is to make the issue better known and understood by creating a buzz in a language that homo nonsapiens can understand. If in order to adapt to climate change we need to mobilize as in times of war, then the measures and tools have to be relevant.

    Clare - I’m afraid it is too late to stop climate change. Not too late to adapt to it, though.

    P.S. Sorry for this late reply guys. I’m currently at war with BT, British Telecom, over my internet connection. So far they were winning by keeping me disconnected..


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