Mind the gap

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

A cli­mate change ex­pert ar­gues that the world needs bet­ter myths to shape the fu­ture in un­cer­tain times.

The Myth Gap comes with the rec­om­men­da­tion that it is “a must-read for any­one con­sid­er­ing how to save the world”. Per­haps; those who are al­ready con­vinced that the world needs sav­ing won’t need it, while scep­tics are un­likely to want to do so. More to the point is the au­thor’s ques­tion: “What hap­pens when ev­i­dence and ar­gu­ments aren’t enough?” This is cer­tainly per­ti­nent. The EU ref­er­en­dum and the Amer­i­can Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of­fer ex­am­ples of the tri­umph of feel­ing over rea­son­ing.

Alex Evans is a Se­nior Fel­low at New York Uni­ver­sity’s Cen­ter on In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion “with nearly 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in cli­mate and devel­op­ment pol­icy.” So you know where he is com­ing from and where he stands.

He be­lieves we are in the old Last Chance Sa­loon, even though he is hon­est enough to ac­knowl­edge that in a great many re­spects things are get­ting bet­ter. There have been world­wide im­prove­ments in life ex­pectancy, lit­er­acy, and agri­cul­ture; we have the abil­ity to feed every­body. It’s a ques­tion of or­gan­i­sa­tion.

It’s also for Evans a ques­tion of how we think of our­selves and the world. He quotes Terry Pratch­ett: “Peo­ple think that sto­ries are shaped by peo­ple. In fact, it’s the other way about”.

We act in ac­cor­dance with the sto­ries we tell our­selves. So “if the myths we reach for in con­di­tions of stress and cri­sis are ones about over­shoot and col­lapse, and we all start to act ac­cord­ingly... Then that will de­ter­mine where we’re headed.” We need, he thinks, bet­ter myths. He quotes Karen Arm­strong who calls a myth “a guide to be­hav­iour”.

Well, he may be right. Ac­tu­ally of course there are scep­tics and de­niers who be­lieve that the case for an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change is it­self a myth that has been very ef­fec­tively pro­moted; so much so that it is the dom­i­nant myth of our time. Gov­ern­ments have acted in ac­cor­dance with its mes­sage. The car­bon-based econ­omy is, if not in ab­so­lute de­cline, on the back foot. So, for ex­am­ple, we have wind farms all over York­shire.

The scep­tics point out that the world ex­pe­ri­enced far more ex­treme changes of cli­mate – the Ice Age, for ex­am­ple – long be­fore Man was mak­ing any con­tri­bu­tion. So when Evans tells us we have “a myth gap”, they say “pull the other one”.

From their per­spec­tive the ev­i­dence of cli­mate sci­en­tists (which they ques­tion, per­haps un­rea­son­ably) and the ar­gu­ments re­sult­ing from it have been more than enough.

Nev­er­the­less Evans is an at­trac­tive and per­sua­sive writer. He be­lieves we can use “our pow­ers of col­lec­tive story-telling to imag­ine a fu­ture in which it all goes right, cre­at­ing a myth about re­demp­tion and restora­tion that adds up, if you like, to an Eden 2.0”. Paradise re­gained in other words.

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