Sunday, 22 August 2010

Reasons we are in Denial

From a 2006 spoof newspaper I did.

12 reasons why we are still in denial
MANCHESTER- A special investigation by this newspaper has revealed that Climate Change has been systematically under-estimated and under-reported. While no single villain is to blame, our reporters have identified several important factors.

Science is 'small c' conservative. Scientists are trained not to speculate beyond what the current empirical evidence will support. To do so, to go 'out on a limb', is to risk a career shelf-stacking at Asda.

Our ignorance is outstanding. The planet is fantastically complex, with all sorts of unknown influences, feedback loops etc. Assumptions that filled yesterday's text books are regularly over-turned. The new scientific and conceptual tools (Complex Systems etc.) at our disposal are absurdly new (40 years and less).

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future

Some scientists still talking about how things will pan out in other fields 40 to 50 years hence, making it seem as if Climate Change is just one problem among many.

Our brains are limited. In most of our lives we encounter gradual change. We age one year at a time. Our wages (if we're lucky) creep up slowly. We are not regularly exposed to exponential changes, ‘phase shifts’ and the like. Without getting all evolutionary psychologist on your ass, we never needed to develop the mental tools for our current dilemma of positive feedback loops.

Our cultural selection pressures have always favoured optimists. Most folk flee from bad news. Never underestimate our amazing capacity to distract ourselves the latest baubles and trinkets, an upcoming holiday, coming and going in the Big Brother house.

We have a creeping expectation that God will rescue us, since we are obviously the most important thing in the Universe.

Profit-driven media systems exist to make money, not to inform. They need to establish a happy mood for people to read the adverts. The Pending Ecological Debacle doesn't really put the reader/viewer in the chucklezone.

Decisions on what and how to present science stories are largely made by arts graduates. They have been taught to get 'balance', meaning that until about two years ago, any old oil-company stooge could get equal airtime with a proper climatologist. Funnily, when doing stories on the Holocaust or the link between smoking and cancer, they don't ask David Irving or the Tobacco Growers' Association for a comment...

TV news stories have to be short, simple and have some good pictures. (Basically, what Herman and Chomsky refer to as “concision”)

We are coping with the legacy of ferocious and largely-successful ‘denial’ campaigns by capitalist interests in the 1990s (Global Climate Coalition is the prime example). This has left otherwise educated and bright people thinking that there is still doubt about climate change.

The general public is largely innumerate and woefully scientifically illiterate.

However, not all the scare stories are true: newspapers need to sell copies, so are attracted to the alarmist “we are all going to die next year” story, instead of the less controversial “we and most of the species on this rather pretty rock, are all going to die within the next 50 years”

People need to educate themselves about the basic science. Two really good places to start are Kate Evans “Funny Weather” and then on which real climatologists speak to each other in something approaching English.

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