Manne on climate change

What follows is a severely condensed version of an essay, Diabolical, by Robert Manne in The Monthly for December 2015. It makes so many important points that I have overcome my reluctance to recycle others’ work here, but I do apologise to Manne and The Monthly for doing so and encourage my readers to read the original here. I have added the links and a few [words] of explanation but that’s all. Now, over to Manne:

Unless by some miracle almost every climate scientist is wrong, future generations will look upon ours with puzzlement and anger – as the people who might have prevented the Earth from becoming a habitat unfriendly to humans and other species but nonetheless failed to act. … Our conscious destruction of a planet friendly to humans and other species is the most significant development in history. … 

[Tactics for change agents]

Several studies reveal that the choice of language helps determine the level of concern. Conservatives are significantly less resistant to acknowledging there is a problem when the talk is of “climate change” rather than “global warming”. Because many studies have found the level of “visceral” response to the problem to be low, communicative calmness is implicitly or explicitly recommended. One concluded that people are repelled by climate-change messages that seem to them “apocalyptic”. Presenting the issue in this way interfered with their desire to live in “a world that is just, orderly and stable”. Another discovered that people were increasingly irritated by claims they regarded as “alarmist”. … 

Many studies also emphasise the importance of framing. One suggested a problem with using the frame of “care”, as this was the kind of narrative conservatives rejected. Another found that climate-change warnings were more effective if framed as public health concerns rather than as national security ones.

… Norgaard’s [Norwegian] study is interesting in part because it suggests that psychological denial offers a more general clue to the puzzle of humankind’s incapacity to rise to the challenge of climate change than the kind of political denialism found more or less exclusively in the US, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. 

[The way forward]

… In recent months Lord Nicholas Stern has published a new analysis of the climate-change crisis, Why Are We Waiting? The tone is now much more urgent [than in his 2006 review, summarised here]. …Stern accepts that the world must aim for the now internationally agreed limit of no more than a 2ºC temperature increase on pre-industrial temperature. According to his calculations, for there to be any hope of only a 2ºC increase in the next 15 years, in the developing world – where both greenhouse-gas emissions and population levels are currently accelerating very rapidly – emissions will have to be reduced. In the developed world – where emissions have become more or less stable – they will have to be cut in half. … What Nicholas Stern now calls for is nothing less than an immediate, global-wide “energy revolution”.  

Yet, as many people now realise, something much more profound than all this is required: a re-imagining of the relations between humans and the Earth, a re-imagining that will be centred on a recognition of the dreadful and perhaps now irreversible damage that has been wrought to our common home by the hubristic idea at the very centre of the modern world – man’s assertion of his mastery over nature.

Such a recognition signals a coming moral shift no less deep than those that have already transformed humankind with regard to the ancient inequalities of race and gender. … It is this recognition  …  that is already making Bill McKibben’s international movement for divestment from fossil fuels one of the fastest growing, most effective and most morally charged international protest movements since the anti-apartheid struggles. And it is this recognition that forms the core of Pope Francis’s recent summons for a worldwide cultural revolution. “No system,” he writes, “can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful … An authentic humanity … seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.”

It is on our instinct for what is good, true and beautiful, and on the arousal of that authentic humanity from its present slumber, that hopes for the human future and the future of the species with whom we share the Earth now rest.

Townsville takes part in the Global day of Climate Action

crowd with placards
The obligatory crowd photo

Today’s global day of climate action represents a remarkable collaboration of environmental and community groups around the world, led by 350.org. Here in Townsville, NQCC provided the leadership and a sizeable crowd assembled on the Strand for music, face-painting and speeches from Wendy Tubman and Sandy McCathie. Rather than a march we had a staged photo-op: dozens of people on the beach with their heads in the sand in imitation of a certain Mr Abbott (certain, that is, that climate change is crap and that he doesn’t need to listen to anyone who thinks otherwise; he’s wrong on both counts, of course).

It was a positive event in the same style as the National Day of Climate Action in June: a gathering of like-minded people for a good cause, having fun in beautiful surroundings as well as making a serious point.

350.org is assembling a photo gallery on flickr; Australian images are here. I haven’t yet seen photos of the completed heads-in-the-sand panorama but here’s one showing people beginning to get ready for it.

preparing to  dig
Playing on the beach – seriously

Update, 24.9.14

The media coverage has now peaked:

  • Avaaz has a great collection of photos from around the world accompanied by front-page newspaper coverage.
  • GetUp! has a good collection on instagram.
  • More locally, the Townsville Bulletin had no coverage at all on Monday (except a short report from AAP of the Cairns rally, which was presumably ‘news’ because it was held outside the G20 finance ministers’ meeting) but came to the party on Tuesday with a cute photo of a child in costume and a brief report.
  • The “heads in the sand” photo (below) from Cranky Curlew has attracted quite a lot of attention including a spot on Channel 10’s “The Project” yesterday evening.

Townsville Salutes

I found it on the net

This is one of my occasional “grab bag” or “miscellany” posts, simply sharing sites and images I have come across and tagged for one reason or another.

wall of films

Films for Action (http://www.filmsforaction.org) is a site which documents activist movies, much more methodically than I did in my Greenie Movies posts last year. The page which first caught my attention is their wall of films (above) but they have some interesting articles as well (I particularly liked their overview of worldwide moves towards reducing wage inequality) and a useful list of “independent media” in a sidebar on the article index page.

• This Environmental Art Calendar is just for inspiration. How do people think of such things? And then how do they make them?

• These hyper-stylised Renaissance-inspired insect drawings might hardly rate a mention after the calendar but they do do something with insect forms that I have never seen before, and I do like anything that encourages a positive attitude towards insects and, in fact, the whole biosphere in which we are so intricately embedded.

• Finally I will share a Facebook page. I can hardly believe I’m doing this – I dismissed FB entirely for years as a waste of time and bandwidth, a horrible fad which pandered to lowest-common-denominator narcissism, a time-sink … and it is still, in fact,  all of those if we allow it to be. On the other hand, it has become a useful means of spreading independent news and generating grass-roots crowd energy; and it has spawned its own visual language which, as I said in earlier posts, is sometimes beautiful and often fun. Trust Me, I’m an “Eco-designer” https://www.facebook.com/GreenSetGo enjoys the possibilities to the full. Reading the “About” info reveals the FB page is run by a real eco-design business … and there is nothing wrong with that, either.

National Day of Climate Action – Townsville

hundreds of people on lawn
The crowd on Burke St headland, the Strand

The National Day of Climate Action was a great success nationally and Townsville people played their part in it. We gathered on the Strand at 4 p.m., wearing the “hot, bright” colours requested by  GetUp!, and listened to speakers telling us about the multiple threats posed by climate change. Organisers counted over 450 people which on a per capita basis is about as good as Melbourne and, in fact, the national average. Congratulations to GetUp! and local organisers NQ Conservation Council.

Band and audience
Live entertainment between speakers

Halelujah BABY raised the energy levels with some very appropriate songs and there were some great individual contributions – this sign, for instance, and the small group of folk musicians (harp, recorders and fiddle) playing on the edge of the site.

Rain was threatening from 3.30 onwards and started falling about 5.00 as we were coming to the end of the programme but this is Townsville so the rain is warm and we still walked from the headland down on to the beach for a group photo. I might have said “marched” but we were far too happy and relaxed for that. We were serious about climate change and getting some action to address it, sure, but we were also happy to be there together and see such a large group of like-minded people. It’s all too easy to be discouraged by the indifference of those around us at work or in our social circles but this rally affirmed the community support that environmental action does have.

There is a saying amongst politicians that each letter they receive on a given issue is worth ten votes. How many votes is each participant in a rally worth? Surely at least twice that. Ewen Jones, can you afford to lose 9000 votes next election?

Didn’t attend but want to be heard? You can still (as of the time of writing) sign the petition.

National news for the National Day of Climate Action

Environmental fiction for adults

Some of us read nonfiction (The Future EatersAn Inconvenient Truth, etc) to learn more about the environment, and that’s good, but we can also read fiction for inspiration and entertainment. Here is a ‘Greenie Adult Fiction’ list which I came across last year.  The books on it which I do know made me think that the books I don’t know ought to be good too. This version of the list was published in Waves, newsletter of Reef HQ Aquarium Volunteers Association, in February 2012 but the original, created and hosted by a US public library, has vanished from the web since then so I can’t simply point you to it.

cover of Cape PerdidoMarcia Muller: Cape Perdido
When a South Carolina company wants to take water from Cape Perdido, the town’s residents protest. Eventually, things get ugly and someone is killed. An ecological thriller by a well-known mystery writer.

Ernest Callenbach: Ecotopia
In this classic eco-fiction novel, Oregon, Washington and Northern California secede to form an ecologically and socially progressive society. Their citizens rely totally upon solar power and other environmentally safe technology.

cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang Edward Abbey: The Monkey Wrench Gang
Four environmentalists resort to guerrilla welfare when legal tactics fail to stop ecological disasters in the desert of southwestern USA. This is classic Edward Abbey and shouldn’t be missed.

Barbara Delinsky: Looking for Peyton Place
Novelist Annie Barnes returns to her hometown upon the early death of her mother to find her sister also suffering medical problems. Annie turns detective when she begins to suspect that her family’s illnesses were caused by mercury poison from the town’s paper mill.

C. J. Box: Savage Run
Game warden Joe Pickett tries to find out who murdered an environmentalist and his wife, and finds himself fighting millionaire ranchers wanting to put more money in their own pockets.

cover of The Stream Brian Clarke: The Stream
This book tells the story of a stream and all the creatures who live in it or near it, and how their world slowly changes when an industrial park moves nearby. This is the first novel ever to win the Natural World Book Prize, Britain’s premier literary environmental award.

Rick Bass: Where the Sea Used to Be
A veteran petroleum geologist clashes with his environmentalist daughter in this novel by a well-known short story writer.

Charles Pellegrino: Dust
A biological thriller with fungus gnats, bugs, and vicious mites eating their way up the food chain in a world gone wild because of human environmental mishandling.

cover of A Friend of the Earth T. Coraghessan Boyle: A Friend of the Earth
In 2025, global warming and the greenhouse effect have altered the environment drastically and the book’s main character commits the rest of his life to being an “Earth Forever” activist.

My main interest a year ago was Young Adult fiction, rather than Adult fiction, with environmental themes. This page lists some of those books.

Give Twice for Christmas

This article has been evolving for a few weeks of every year for several years – as my subject line warns you, it’s seasonal. In 2009 I sent it to family, friends and colleagues in the hope that it would put a little bit more meaning back into the Christmas hoopla. The following year it was published in my local paper and it has appeared in a few other publications since then. If you have read it before, you might like to skip it this time to learn more about (e.g.) a bear sanctuary or the centipede’s dilemma. Otherwise, read on: 

Christmas was originally a time of religious thanksgiving, and for many of us it still is. And for nearly all of us it is a joyful time, bringing happiness by re-affirming bonds of family and friendship whether or not the spiritual aspect is celebrated.

But it is not all good. The religious side of Christmas was being drowned out by the clangour of cash-register bells even when I was a wonderstruck child still willing to believe in Santa. In these days of environmental degradation there is another reason to reject the commercialisation, too: Christmas is becoming a pretext for blatantly wasteful over-consumption.

In itself, giving is always a good thing (receiving can be nice, too!) and Christmas can be a good excuse to acknowledge your friendships in this way. And choosing not to give presents offends and upsets those who believe in tradition, while refusing to accept gifts offends them even more. But what can we do to opt out of Consumas and back in to Christmas?

1. Give according to the recipient’s values. Of course you already try to do that but think outside the conventional range of gifts. If ‘everyone buys their Dad a gadget’, your Dad has probably got a shed-full already. Remember that he is not just a generic older male consumer but has his own particular interests.

2. Give according to your own values. If you care about native birds, giving your friend a kitten may make you feel guilty for years, so find something which you have no doubts about instead – a bird-bath, maybe.

3. Give twice with every gift by finding gifts which benefit as many people as possible, and especially those in need.

  • Buy from charity shops which handle third-world craft products (e.g. World Vision). Some of the money goes back to the maker, and the rest supports the charity’s other projects.
  • Buy Fairtrade goods if you can, rather than the standard commercial equivalents.
  • Make a donation in the recipient’s name to a charity whose aims they support. (If you give them the receipt, they can claim it as tax deduction – nice bonus). Kiva, which Hollows foundation gift cardsprovides micro loans in poor countries with Western help, is worth considering here alongside Red Cross, the Wilderness Society and the rest.
  • Remember that Unicef, CARE and Oxfam sell a range of gift certificates where the purchaser buys school books or a goat or a well for a third-world family. Buy one in the name of the recipient, who will receive a card with details of the donation and what it’s going to be used for.
  • Make or grow something yourself, if you have the skills: a cake, herb sachets, a framed photo, or a pot-plant in flower.
  • Buy gifts from local art galleries to support struggling artists (and believe me, nearly all artists are struggling).
  • Buy cards, calendars, t-shirts, Christmas cakes, etc, from the Heart Foundation, Lions cake labelAustralian Youth Climate Coalition or similar organisations. The goods may be mass produced but at least the profits are doing some good.

4. Ask, suggest or hint that others do the same. Use this article as a starting point if you like, and put it on Facebook or email it to lots of people you know. You don’t have to say, “If you were thinking of giving me something, I would prefer…,” which could be kind of awkward; just say, “I think this is a good way of thinking about Christmas.” You could bring a lot more happiness into the world by doing so – and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Thanks for reading – and do have a good Christmas, whether you take my ideas on board or not.