Showing posts with label Jared Diamond. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jared Diamond. Show all posts

Friday, February 01, 2013

Flight From Empowerment

One of the less productive responses to the reality of human-caused climate change is the effort people expend not to think about it. A different and, I would argue, more satisfying approach is to embrace its reality and focus on the positive things one can do to lessen its impact.

Climate change is like another phenomenon people avoid thinking about, aging, in that both are driven by an incremental accumulation, whether of greenhouse gases or time.

But unlike with aging, rapid changes in climate are something humanity has imposed upon itself. There are many things we can do both as individuals and collectively to slow or eventually even reverse the radicalization of climate.

That most people have not responded to this rallying cry, so common in the books and documentaries on the subject, suggests a need to avoid empowerment and maintain a sense of victimhood. Standard news media have long catered to this need by avoiding any implication in daily reporting that human activity contributes to making forest fires, floods and storms more destructive. The overwhelming desire is to perceive threats as coming from the outside, rather than being generated cumulatively from the inside.

Jared Diamond, in a recent essay in the NY Times entitled "That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer", describes one aspect of the flight from empowerment this way:

"It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways — crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops. At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control (“That would never happen to me — I’m careful”) and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way."

Action sells, but it's the accumulation of mundane daily choices that is most likely to determine our individual and collective fates. Acknowledging the real threats that one actually has a hand in, and accepting that small but measurable power to change prospects for the better, involves seeing the profundity and cumulative meaning in day to day living.

Democracy is built on such a notion. Each vote, small but measurable, counts towards the final result.

The relative lack of individual or collective response to climate change suggests that people are stuck on the first line of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Courage, people, courage!