Seeing in Mono

The problem with people (apart from there being far too many) is that they usually only see in mono. Not glorious stereophonic, let alone in surround sound.

In case you missed it, there’s a war going on right now. It’s a war of big ideas with huge consequences, and, for once, it’s a war that has captured the publics’ attention. This one’s not some storm in the cups and saucers of the academic tea room. This one is the very McDonalds of debates (with just about as much intellectual nutrition as a Big Mac to underpin most of what’s being said). It’s the current debate over climate change. Everyone’s got an opinion, so very very few have any facts.

Like most things with which the populace gets involved, we’re all bumbling along with lots of noise and fury; sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. But one thing’s sure: we are all now sitting in a fermenting vat of vast cultural change. And that’s a good thing! The yeast of political rhetoric, public servant pontification, academic argument and corporate spin is loosing a gas of change that’s got us all in a cycle of agitated attention. Watch the lounge loungers in any local mall: the debate has descended to something akin to a football match. ‘Is. Isn’t. Is. Isn’t’ (as in real). Watch the sage sages in the halls of academe: ‘I have six publications to say it is. I have seven to say it is not. I have eight. I have nine! Ha! You’re just an economist. Bah, you are only a botanist’. Watch the sleezy sleezbags in the Big Oil Corporate corner of town: ‘What’s the Internal Rate of Return from going green?’ What’ll the market bear from all the PR we’re going to need?’ Watch the politicians at work: we’ll deliver a 5% target. Vote for us and we’ll give you 7%. 15% over here! Commie Greenie sell-outs. We’re about Jobs, Jobs and Jobs! Ha! I’ve had dinner with Al Gore!’

Deeply insightful debate, for sure.

What’s really going on? What’s the cause of all this noise? Can we really slide towards an inspired global political consensus; scientifically informed, community supported, corporately aligned? Not a chance.

The game so far has all been about window dressing a building that was never really there. It’s all about decorating that stage-prop of a building front with nothing real behind. No one’s looking behind the curtain anymore. No one’s bothered to ask the guys stoking the boilers in the bilge below. They can see the ice berg poking through the hull. And all that water flooding in.

Speaking as someone who tried, but pointedly failed, to inspire a more creative smoothing the scientific and economic plate tectonics involved in this global conflagration, the issue is all to do with time. Economics is all about now. Our economies are engineered for the next 20 years. After that, no one cares. Officially. Because time after that is discounted, effectively, to zero. No matter what they might say. And if they do say otherwise, they are having you on. Or they’re not using conventional economics.

Ecological Science is spaced out over timeframes that are defined more by evolutionary themes. Geological time, population trends, biodiversity impacts, butterfly wings and global chaos. It’s harder to focus on humans alone when you start looking at biodiversity webs.

Just Like Cattle Crossing a Bridge

I was riding along the other day when I came up behind a cattle truck stuck in the middle of the road. It was nose up against a herd of cattle all busy balking at a bridge. Now cattle don’t like crossing bridges; they’d almost always prefer to go around, under or, generally, in any direction other than over the scary insecurity of what they must perceive of as a ramp to certain hell… Same thing goes for horses and sheep. But cattle are particularly hard to push across structures such as these. Mainly because they are so astoundingly stupid. I prefer sheep…

So, here we were, truck and bike waiting patiently while a couple of stockmen threw curses and instructions to their dogs to, somehow, break this stalemate of who-goes-first. But these steers would not shift. They turned their backs to the bridge to counter this threat of barking dogs. They bellowed and decorated the road. They stood their ground like defenders of some kind of lost cause. No one was going anywhere, at all. Until one iconoclastic hounded beast decided to head off over the closest fence; a clever mooove, I am sure, to confuse the enemy. Which it surely was. As now the stockmen have another task to perform quite contrary to their original intention.

Finally, after about 20 minutes or so, one solitary steer turned to sniff the bridge. He placed a hoof to experiment with the security of this possible path. Then another. Looking back, looking forward, our brave explorer took off up the road and, like all chain reactions of follow-the-leader, all the rest soon followed suit. At last, the herd was across and the truck could proceed. So could I, but it was not fun for my clean carbon rims…

There was something astoundingly familiar in the dramas of this scene. Looking at all the excreta on the road, the stupefaction of the target audience, all that pointless barking and shouting and all that dysfunctional milling around, I was reminded of the current Great Climate Change Debate.

The bridge is the Copenhagen Conference. The mindless mentally loop-locked bellowing crowd in-search-of-a-leader is us (well, those not possessed of bicycling mind, anyway), and that notable beast who took off over the fence in search of a better, less traumatic place to hide, is the model of our current political leadership and their advisers (chasing Emissions Trading Schemes and other worthless fantasies).

There are some exciting parallels to note. That steer that took the first step across the bridge … is the stall-buster we’ve all been looking for. The barking dogs are the frenzies of big-stick managerialism at work (wielding trading schemes and associated policy prods) – all noise and pointless confusion to the real task at hand.

The stick might work, perhaps, but all it really took is one steer to take that first step; then the job was easy! In this case, the big barking stick simply inspired that contrary escape across the fence: a diversion and futile escape from the traumas of temporary realities. No, this herd did it’s thing via the time-honoured tradition of grass-roots emergent leadership. If we can catalyse just one beast to take the first step, the mob will follow. It’s ALL about the mob. It’s all about clever catalysation; or the pulling of clever levers to get the mob to move. That’s how fashion shifts work; that’s how religions grow; that’s how social change ordinarily proceeds (except when prodded by the gun of tyrannical Managerialist psychoses from which reality-sheltered academics, public servants, and corporate machine managers seem to particularly suffer). That first hoof across the bridge is how paradigms shift. The impetus for change can come from any element in the crowd; in beautifully unpredictable, chaotic ways. But change does happen. Eventually. Even if only because we all die from the effects from far too much standing around in each other’s ever accumulating poo…

So, you see, the task at hand is not about cattle dog barking conferences, agreements and other associated over-priced diversions. The task at hand is to work on the crowd; directly, intelligently, patiently and with a degree of cleverness completely missing from the current Climate Change Debate.

The task at hand is to spark a revolution of emergent, grass-roots derived revolution of purpose and action. It’s all to do with the folk milling in the crowd at the edge of the bridge. Not with the application of big sticks, shouting and energetic cursing. Those are blunt, unwieldy, energy intensive tools to apply. Much better to get in there and ‘whisper the right words in some well chosen ears’. The task is much more a process of herding cats… or steers, than laying down some polished rails from the platforms of mega-conference ego-fests.

I am un-surprised by the herd culture most people seem to be displaying in relation to Climate Change. All these debates of denial vs. advocacy are the mutterings of a bunch of steers balking at the bridge. It’s all a noise of brays and moooing … signifying, ultimately, nothing at all. Except, via a five star irony of momentous proportion, for all the atmospheric gassing and mega ecological footprint defecation our leaders will be depositing on the bridge precipice of Copenhagen.

It really is astoundingly simple, that first step. Here’s what we each can do. Here’s what we each should do. These things are easy and cost virtually nothing. Indeed, these things are win-win for our personal wealth, health and happiness. Here’s some things for each of us to do that will collectively change the world:

  • Control population. We are all in this together. The world absolutely does not need more people. Stop at two kids per couple.
  • Reject the car. Use bicycles, or public transport instead.
  • Control consumerism. We don’t NEED all that junk!

Imagine if everyone followed this simple plan! This is stuff WE can do without the urging of policies, plots and plans. These are the steps we can take to cross the bridge. Stop watching that runaway Hopenhagen steer. We are the people who make the world work. Not the corporations, tower sitters and the machinery of state. The cause is for each and every one of us to take personal responsibility for our journey across the bridge. You, me and 6.5 billion others. Before the poo piles get far too deep.