Ready and Open for Crisis?
We humans are funny beasts. We like to think of ourselves as proactive and flexible, when actually, for the most part we are reactive and rigid, to the point that how we respond to certain stimuli actually becomes part of our identity. Or perhaps it is the other way around, our identity shapes how we respond? Either way, these psychological conundrums are likely the force behind why we continuously exist in this tiring, uncreative, and dangerous stale mate on climate change legislation.
An opinion piece in the Times, Disaster at the Top of the World by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a prominent thinker on resource scarcity and rising conflict–reminds us that it will be nearly impossible to mobilize people on the issue of climate change legislation because our identities and how we see ourselves in the world is more important than the truth of what is happening, or in other words, our identities shape how we react to the severity of the issue. But eventually, we will have a clear, present and dangerous crisis that will be directly linked to climate change. 2010, shaping up to be the hottest year on record, full with drought, fire, and flooding is perhaps still not enough. Dixon reminds us that a, “key lesson of the recent financial crisis: when powerful special interests have convinced much of the public that what they’re doing isn’t dangerous, only a disaster that discredits those interests will provide an opportunity for comprehensive policy change like the Dodd-Frank financial regulations…Policy makers need to accept that societies won’t make drastic changes to address climate change until such a crisis hits.”
So, what are we to do? Wait for the disaster and have a plan for it? Essentially, yes. It seems like a nice compromise between proactivity and reactivity: Be prepared to react. He cites a Harvard publication from 2009, Responding to Threats of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes, but says that this report and others like it are the exception and not the norm and efforts remain uncoordinated.
Most climate scientists believe that we have a shrinking window of time to address this issue. But this think piece almost recommends that we let the window close and figure out how to hack it after. Scale the wall, climb the fire escape, etc. The biggest question then is, do we really need to enter into the crisis era before anything actually changes? I believe there are countless opportunities to use environmental challenges as democracy building exercises and opportunities, invoking crowd sourcing technologies and the like. But on this issue, I might actually be okay with the benevolent dictator who has all of our best interests in mind when the crisis, whatever it may be, actually hits. In the meantime, we can and should continue to do the work we do to look at the decisions of our lives as potential landscapes for sustainability. Let this, define us. And let this, be our identity.