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.


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