Friday, March 17, 2017

If We Could Be as Smart as Frogs

I regularly tell students about our likely future. It's often met with skepticism, so I provide lots of citations from the IPCC and NASA. Then I sometimes get a lecture on being so doom and gloom. Denial is our go-to defence against reality. But for whose benefit? It's just for our own short term enjoyment at the expense of our long term survival. But we can so easily enjoy our lives without so much of the crap we've come to take as necessary to our happiness. Well, some of us better than others, I suppose. People don't want to think about the effect their choices have on the future. It feels uncomfortable to think about how bad it might be. And our culture is awash in the view that anything that causes anxiety is a bad thing. But it's so much easier to cope with knowing, to cope with some anxiety over it all today, than trying to figure out how to cope with the burgeoning ravages of climate change.

Denialists, and those who believe yet continue to hush the messengers because they're not quite ready to hear it (There will be time, There will be time...), are the frogs that refuse to budge from the boiling pot.

Rupert Read, British philosopher and politician, recently gave a grim opening address to a group of first year students but added the message that frogs in gradually warming water actually jump out! He's hopeful that we can be so smart.

He has a two-point plan to change our culture of recklessness.

1. Use the precautionary principle that state where there is a risk of serious harm, then you don't need to wait for full scientific proof to act on that harm by taking strong, precautionary action. We're wasting too much time waiting for categorical proof when we need to act now. If this becomes a guiding principle, then the world and its prognosis will begin to look very different.

2. Create a Guardians of Future Generations panel. We're stuck in short term misreasoning (and have been for 2500 years according to Plato). Politicians have even shorter time horizons; they don't think past the next news cycle. We need a change to make it necessary to think long term. Imagine if your children and their children were here with us now, and consider what they would tell us to do and not do. We need a proxy institution to create that idea - a third house of parliament with representatives of future generations with the power to strike down any idea that could recklessly damage the future. Plato would say it should be made up of the philosophers. Reed thinks it should be a random selection of the population to maintain the democratic system.

With the number of people I know who are just beginning to recycle because the new garbage restrictions have finally forced the issue, and the number who want me to stop talking about the problems with GHGs long enough for them to effectively re-sheath their lifestyle in ignorance to their own effects on the world, I'm with Plato on this one.

The Tao cautions that we should accept the trajectory of the universe because it's arrogant to think we can fix it. George Carlin says the same thing. It's a calming philosophy. Hope that we can do something makes me anxious. Hope means we have to keep fighting, keep doing our part in how we live, in how we vote, in the letters we write, and in our attempts to get others to do the same, to join the quest for a better world - a survivable world. Accepting that we can't change means accepting the end of our species. I'm not ready for that yet.

Anyway, here's the video of his talk. It's only 12 minutes.

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