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Our minds not made for saving the climate

by Ruth Aine - 01 January 2015

Blog-CA01Vast expanse of uncultivated land, a lot of fresh air, huge large farms and green vegetation on virgin land: this is what you get, if like me, you managed to travel upcountry for the holidays or to the ‘village’ as it is known in Uganda. As we drove through these areas, I couldn’t help think to myself as I noticed how much potential we have in our land resources. There is so much green – very little settlement in these urban areas.

If you are lucky and the area Member of Parliament has ‘worked’ then you will find a tarmacked road. Beyond that though, there is visibly no hurry for the locals to ‘quicken their footsteps’ in regard to development. Development as we have come to know it means that there is pollution, a lot of traffic and human settlement in the area. The latter being the cause of the former. Important to note is that there is a lot of unoccupied land and that livestock will be found along the road crossing the road like there is no hurry at all.

However there is no legislation in such areas in regard to climate change because the notion is that it has not yet happened. There is no emphasis on conservation of the green unoccupied land resource that we have grown accustomed to as the ‘village’. Instead, we are busy legislating and asking that the governments quickly give money to such places to develop and become cities. This is on the national level.

On the global level, we are busy holding huge meetings on regional and world levels, legislating and creating laws, which back home do not amount to anything. We fail to agree on the laws that will govern our environment or even see for sure that climate change is eating up our continent, let alone the world. We still fight to realize an amicable ‘solution’ for all partners involved. Does such a thing exist?

Via email, I caught up with an international Science Journalist Hanns-J. Neubert. You can read about him and his work here. . He gave quite an interesting perspective on climate change policyi.

How do you explain what in the current world is happening in regard to climate change policy?

“Our tragedy as humans is that we are not rational subjects. While thinking we are rational in our decisions we overlook that our brain provides us with biased answers. We could overcome these biases, but that means work for our conscient brain which is much slower than the evolutionary old parts of the brain. In order to work rational, our brain needs to be awaken and energetic. It is nearly impossible to reach rational agreements when delegates of conferences - such as the climate summits - lack certain physiological or biological conditions like sleep and sugar. Moreover, some training is needed to realize and circumvent biases of the brain.

Many intellectuals are able to understand the interaction of the modern conscious and the old unconscious brain parts. But neither politicians nor delegates belong to this group, and proposals of intellectuals are usually not considered. This is proved by the fact that delegates and heads of states want to fly to summits. They want to see each other - people are most interested in people. But this is an emotional thing, and thus the first bias. When just exchanging letters or hold screen conferences things would immediately become more rational.

To go deeper into this subject it may be helpful to read academic, biological, psychological and brain science literature. A good and comprehensive summary of the works of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, is available at this referenceii, which I really recommend.

Do you think that we will ever be able to reach an ‘amicable’ agreement in these climate change conversations world over?

I am not very optimistic that humankind can reach an effective climate agreement in order to stop climate change within the next 500 or so years. Humans are not used to think in time frames of 500, 1000 or more years.

For example: Solar panels and wind mills are high on the agenda to save carbon dioxide emissions. However, for the production of such toys enormous amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted in a short time, while carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reduced on a time scale of 100 to 150 years. And solar panels and wind mills will only be good for 20 or 30 years. A simple mathematical calculation reveals that this will not work. Besides, both technologies need enormous amounts of precious metals and rare earths, which are often exploited under inhumane conditions and which will soon be exhausted. Another simple mathematical calculation reveals that this will not work either. The only solution is not to use energy at all. But that would be a catastrophe for the world’s economic system.

All solutions to save the climate are on the table, but they are not used. The basic and biggest obstacle for a change is our globalized, capitalistic, economic and financial system, which is indeed more a religion than a rational system. As long as humankind will not overcome this system, I see no solutions for saving the climate.

Where does the ‘bigger problem’ lie?

So we have to fight on two levels: Against the stupidity of politicians, heads of states and public servants as climate summit delegates, and the neoliberal and colonial economy. With the latter, which sometimes is even more important than fighting for climate insight, we are in dilemma: Millions of people will suffer after the capitalistic system has brought them a little bit out of poverty.

However, nature will find its own solution, even if millions of people will cease or suffer: Whatever comes first, the breakdown of economy, or increasing natural disasters as results of the climate change. Nature always had solutions for overexploitation of ecological systems. Old species become extinct or move to other places, making place for new species. Why should it be different for humans with a brain of which they can only make limited use of?

Is all hope lost? Is there anything that we can do?

What we can do now is to save the narration of the coming disasters as a memory for future generations in 500 or 1000 years. Then maybe a tenth of the current world population may live around the south and north poles because the rest of the earth may be unliveable for humans. And hopefully these rests of humankind may have learned from our narratives. [This is also developed in more detail in the findings and thoughts of Erik Assadourian in "State of the World 2013" by the Worldwatch Institute.]

Statistics which I recently read in an issue of Technology Review revealed: Most flights are done by people usually aware of ecological and climate damages and usually very engaged in saving the earth, such as voters of green parties, followers of environment NGOs and backpackers looking for intact nature while destroying it. Like the Greenpeace gang in Peru which invaded the Nasca lines and possibly destroyed small parts of them while demonstrating for saving the climate. Or look at a recent email in EJNet from a Nepalese journalist coordinating the Seven Summits Women Team with the slogan "Together We Reach Higher" with a focus on education, empowerment and environment. In my opinion such actions have more to do with destroying the environment and the climate than saving it. Business people are only a minority in the airplanes. They are more rational than environmentalists because they are able to make their deals and contracts without seeing each other in person.

Wow, okay: Talk to us about some of your work thus far.

Well, these are my thoughts on climate policies. I am an old science journalist who studied oceanography in the 1970s. Already then it was very clear for us scientists that something dangerous was happening with the oceans and the atmosphere. I measured these changes in the North Atlantic during my research cruises and we already used computer models developed in the 1960s in order to simulate the future climate. In 1972 these changes where documented in the "Limits to Growth" of the Club of Romeiii. Nothing happened. Another 10 years later, the number of scientific publications about climate change had already doubled. Scientists warned more and more, strongly leading to the foundation of the IPCCiv in 1988. Immediate action was required.

And today? Nearly 27 years after the IPCC, 33 years after the Limits of Growth and 50 years after US President’s Science Advisory Committee's warning in the reportv "Restoring the Quality of Our Environment", essentially nothing has happened. On the contrary: We emit more greenhouse gases than ever, still increasing from year to year. From these facts I derive my pessimism: Within 50 years of increasing knowledge about the climate development, humankind was not able to change its way of living and of its economy, and it is still not willing to change.

I remember two sentences my mother said in the 1950s, very long before climate change was an issue.My mother was a simple woman. Referring to the second world war she said : "Maybe ever now and then a big war is needed to kill millions of people in order to keep humankind on a level which is sustainable for nature." She did not mean it in a sarcastic way since all my family except my grandmother, mother and sister died during the war. Looking in winter at the smoking chimneys of our city, she said: "All these gases from the smoke will fill the atmosphere. It will be the end for humankind when the atmosphere is full."

Thank you so much for your time – any last words?

One needs not to be a scientist to see what is happening, but you need to be a politician and a climate summit delegate to ignore what is happening and to ignore the urgency to act. But as long as people are not able or not trained to use their brain, and as long as a religious economy governs policy, I have no hope for humankind. But on the other side: Maybe it is better for the earth if humans disappear at all. It makes me happy to live with the idea that nature is able emancipate itself from humans.


i http://www.sciencecom.se/hanns-j-neubert
ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow
iii http://www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan-version.pdf
iv http://www.ipcc.ch/
v http://dge.stanford.edu/labs/caldeiralab/Caldeira%20downloads/PSAC,%201965,%20Restoring%20the%20Quality%20of%20Our%20Environment.pdf


Ruth Aine Tindyebwa
Blogger/Online Communications

Read her personal blog; IN DEPTH which is at www.ruthaine.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.


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