This comet is not coming at us uncontrolledly from outer space. it is us. It is all of us.
avoid both the unpalatable possibilities and the apparent responsibilities of being truly sustainable. At this point, the questions to ask psychologists are, why are we doing this, and are we programmed to do so? What can we do to circumvent this programming, if that’s what it is?
I asked Harre that question, more or less, suggesting that we have proven that we aren’t going to live sustainably until it’s too late, given that it probably is already. I suggested that we need to ask psychologists what we might be able to do better for the future, beyond what is more and more looking like a bottleneck for human-kind.
Harre didn’t want to go there. She likened it to being unable to avoid a comet arriving, but that right up until the impact she would still do the ‘right thing’ to the best of her ability. Fair enough, so would I, but I think she missed or avoided an important point, that this comet is not coming at us uncontrolledly from outer space. It is us. More specifically, it is all of us making what we must think are rational individual decisions, the combined impact of which just happens to be potentially fatal to us all.
Her ‘comet’ reply to my question generated a spontaneous burst of applause. That didn’t worry me at the time – this isn’t a contest, after all – but I realised afterwards that it was the third such burst of clapping I’d heard in recent times, making me wonder if they bore a psychological commonality. I think they do. The first round of applause happened at a Climate Change meeting I reported on a couple of issues back. I mentioned that when a particular speaker suggested that the middle-class would have to lower its lifestyle-sights, the applause – uniformly robust until then – was decidedly thinner. At another talk to a full-house audience (in a 250-seat lecture theatre), we listened to Sir Geoffery Palmer on the topic of Climate Change. When Otago University’s Vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne asked for questions, one fellow began making a statement, a statement obviously heading down the ‘denial’ track.
I unashamedly then – and most unashamedly in contemplative hindsight – led a round of hecklers with the admittedly unoriginal contribution of ‘Oh, come on!’ Hayne took the microphone and chastised us, defending the right of the person to have an opinion, and her pride in the University for allowing it to be aired. Her comment got a spontaneous round of applause, and I took good note from my frontal position to see who was clapping. It seemed to me they were mostly the middle class attendees, in other words a goodly proportion of those who were running out of time to rectify any negative impact they may have been responsible for.
I also think Hayne was wrong. I think that at some point academia has to say that enough is known already, that it’s time to make the precautionary moves, time to move the debate on. I think that as science gains knowledge, there is always some inevitable point where ‘let’s continue the debate’ is nothing more than a filibuster, a choice – whether consciously or unconsciously – to avoid making a decision.
I wondered if all three rounds of applause emanated from the same source? From the section of the community who like to think they ‘care’ but who don’t want to be held responsible.
It might explain the lack of questions from the assembled academia at yet another University talk of massed Professors, Emeritis Professors, Associate Professors and assorted others. Climate Change-denier Robert Carter showed a slide of Central Africans and suggested they be allowed to burn coal to raise themselves out of poverty. None of the assembled academia asked ‘what then?’, the obvious question when contemplating the use of a finite resource to address a forever problem. It might even explain why we are witnessing such a middle class focus on Climate