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It isn’t novel to suggest that we live in a culture (in the ‘developed West’) which encourages us to see the world in a childish, almost infantile way. Almost every value which has an impact on everyday life is narrow in scope and simplistic. We prefer surface over substance in almost every imaginable way: physical appearance, ‘bling’, youth, the preferring of immediate gratification over distant benefits. The list of ways in which this might be manifest is almost endless.

What does this have to do with climate change?

It is arguable that this cultural characteristic – if indeed it is one – is one of the principle ‘background’ causes why the concerns of scientists and others are, if not ignored, at least pushed aside in the order of priorities, not just for the general public, but also for policy-makers, in particular in the USA (and here again, I mean the current administration). In a world where what matters is immediately-to-hand, to paraphrase Heidegger, and what we ‘want’ (like a four-year-old child) is more pressing than what is ‘good for us’, looking ahead and seeing the bigger picture simply doesn’t register on the mind.

There are plenty of rational, intelligent people who are able to look ahead, and are able to have a more mature outlook on our prospects, but there are equally a number of otherwise rational and intelligent people who seem unable to grasp the concept that considering the future is an important thing to do, both morally and sensibly, and that in so doing, we should appeal to reason and knowledge (often, but not exclusively, represented by science and academia) for guidance and direction.

But how do I, we, anyone who writes, blogs or argues about climate change, start to talk with others, who choose not to share our concerns about the future? As with politics, if the principal engagement with issues takes places at the immediate, personal or local level, then these are the levels at which we can hope for a response from individuals. This doesn’t mean that we must abandon the ‘wider vision’, but that it may need to be placed in a context for our audiences. Like other bloggers, I find it difficult to know who my audience is specifically, and, in responding to other blogs, or getting feedback from them, it is easy to slip into a group mindset which responds to itself as broadly ‘rational’ and not to ‘others’ for whom this is an opaque, confusing dialogue.

You might object that such an attitude is exactly the reason why ‘dumbing down’ is an issues in our society; not only does it imply a patronising attitude to ‘others’, but also it panders to the cultural childishness by simplifying, making immediate, and trivialising the whole subject which gets us going. This is a bit of a quandary; should we be playing by a rulebook which inherently undermines the very concern which needs addressing, that of the future, or do we need to start the entire ‘Enlightenment’ project all over again?

The causes of the current ‘Age of endarkenment’ (gosh, that looks like it was written for The Simpsons) are many and various, and what lies at the root of the current situation does matter, but more pressing still is the fact of our cultural situation: somehow, we need to help others to start seeing the world in a more ‘grown-up’ way, and to start valuing things more substantial than celebrity, triviality and ‘toys’ (possessions) . At the same time, we need to engage the minds of these selfsame others on the consequences to them of their indifference, not only for themselves, but also for people distant in space and time.

This seems to imply that the purpose, or agenda, of those amongst us for whom climate change is the ‘defining problem of our generation’, must be one of bringing a new enlightenment into our culture; in other words, to educate, inform, and thereby to liberate those who choose to live in a shallow world. As to who might be the object of this liberation, whether our audience should be the current administrators of our society, or the people they are supposed to represent; this can be the choice (and relate to the talents) of each of us.

Here is a proposal and a suggestion, then; the proposal is that an important, perhaps central objective of writers on climate change should be to provide the necessary education. The suggestion is that, in an age where the light of reason is everywhere beset by ignorance and superstition, that we share the common goal of ‘bringing a new Enlightenment’ into the world.


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September 2007
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