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What the Future Needs

by Captain Future Sat May 19th, 2007 at 02:55:59 AM EST

The climate crisis is not a single issue. It is the crisis that encompasses much of what we need to pay attention to, what we must remedy and attain if we are to continue. It is for example about all our relationships to our planet, and our relationships to each other. In our separated and pinched political parlance, it's about environment, energy, economics, geopolitics, poverty, public and private health; governance, community, culture; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's the key to the future, because if we address this crisis successfully, it will require positive change in all areas, and if we do not address it successfully, it will end this show, and define it as tragedy.

What does the future need right now to address the climate crisis? We've come a long way in awareness. In parts of the world, obvious signs of global heating have led to strong consensus on its reality. In the UK, according to the Economist, "85% of the public are now convinced that global warming is actually taking place and almost as many think that without prompt action it will accelerate." In otherwise backward US, quoting TIME magazine: "In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed--90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, 60% of Republicans--said they favor 'immediate action' to confront the crisis."

I believe that in addition to even more awareness, creativity, and the kind of thinking that sees the climate crisis for what it is, what the future needs now is leadership and focus.


Leadership

It's fascinating to me that the last three men to run as the Democratic candidate for President of the U.S. (one of them successfully) are the three most prominent political leaders focusing on the climate crisis and closely related issues. It is also fascinating that only one of them currently holds political office.

That one is Senator John Kerry. With his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, he has recently published the book This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future. It focuses on solutions, many of them ongoing and local. This is not a new concern for the Kerrys. Environmental action in specific local projects has long been a focus of the Heinz Foundation, and the Kerrys first met at an international environmental conference. But it is a new emphasis, and they've been working hard to spread the word about this book in recent months.

The successful candidate is former President Bill Clinton, who announced this week that his foundation will finance projects to retrofit buildings and infrastructure in 16 cities around the world, to reduce carbon emissions. These and related projects involve major banks and technology companies, and they address the climate crisis directly, in that cities account for some three-fourths of greenhouse pollution.

The most obvious former candidate is of course Al Gore, whose An Inconvenient Truth has had and continues to have global impact--that is, it is changing hearts and minds one audience at a time, whether from the Oscar-winning film or the "slide show" Gore continues to give personally, as well as those given by hundreds of trained volunteers. Gore has a new book coming out, The Assault on Reason, which takes a broader look. As he told Time Magazine:

"The real reason I wrote the book...is that I've tried for years to tell the story of the climate crisis, and it has taken far too long to get through. When the best evidence is compiled and there's no longer room for dragging out a pointless argument, we're raised as Americans to believe our democracy is going to respond. But it hasn't responded. We're still not doing anything. So I started thinking, What's going on here?"

By not being candidates for President (although Kerry had intended to be, and had apparently intended the aforementioned book to be his entry into the race), all three are reaching audiences and having an effect globally. They provide leadership in particular ways. They are a crucial part of what the future needs, just as leaders on the state and local and community levels are. But will these kinds of leadership be enough?

Al Gore tells audiences (according to Time):

"I'm trying to say to you, be a part of the change," he told the crowd. "No one else is going to do it. The politicians are paralyzed. The people have to do it for themselves!" He was getting charged up now. "Our democracy hasn't been working very well--that's my opinion. We've made a bunch of serious policy mistakes. But it's way too simple and way too partisan to blame the Bush-Cheney Administration. We've got checks and balances, an independent judiciary, a free press, a Congress--have they all failed us? Have we failed ourselves?"

This is the great hope of grassroots efforts, of individual and community creativity.  But Gore also admitted this:

"I have enjoyed the luxury of being able to focus single-mindedly on this issue... But I am under no illusions that any position has as much ability to influence change as the presidency does. If the President made climate change the organizing principle, the filter through which everything else had to flow, then that could really make a huge difference."

This is the true challenge that no presidential candidate has yet taken: to make climate change the organizing principle. That's the kind of leadership that gives the future a chance.

Focus

That's the focus that the future needs. I've recently returned from two lovely weeks visiting with family in western Pennsylvania. Though I checked my usual Internet news sources fairly regularly, I was far enough outside my usual context to see things a little differently. And what I saw was that the news over this period wasn't new: Gonzales, Wolfowitz, Iraq. They also moved on a completely predictable story trajectory, and not far along it at that.

Yet this is what absorbed the attention of news outlets and progressive political blogs. They are all important of course, but how will the future view them? Especially in light of news that gets less play--for example the various studies that show the effects of global heating being more pronounced, appearing sooner and more thoroughly, than predicted.

I feel strongly that what the future will say about Gonzales, Wolfowitz and the rest of Bushcorps continuing and characteristic machinations is that they demonstrated how vulnerable the U.S. has become to dictatorship. That's going to come into play as the climate crisis worsens.

About Iraq, the future is likely to also point to the incredible waste of resources and attention that crippled our ability to confront the real challenges facing us, and the profound limitations in our thinking this entire geopolitical tragedy reveals, that suggests just how difficult it's going to be to deal with those challenges.

And the future is likely to say that we were mired in tragic distraction, lacking in consciousness,judgment and discipline, paralyzed and manipulated by narrow but powerful centers of selfishness, and crying out for leadership and focus at a critical time in the life of our species and our planet.  Because the climate crisis will dominate that present we now call the future.

Perhaps the ultimate question is not what the future needs, but what it wants. I think the history of the human species is coming to a critical point. We're at the brink of fulfillment, and on the eve of self-destruction. We've taken western-style technology and organization to the crucial point where some of the insights and premises we rejected, already being rediscovered and adapted, must be re-incorporated in appropriate form. The future wants synthesis. The future wants us to become better, to move closer to fulfilling our potential.

The future is telling us that we must re-acknowledge our deep dependence on our planet, our relationship to the rest of life as we know it, as well as to dimensions and possibilities we must be humble enough to explore. The penalty for not giving the future what it wants will likely be the end of this fitful line of development in our species, and perhaps the end of humanity as we know it.

That's what's at stake. What the future needs is more attention, and more care.

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What the future needs and what the future will get are two different things. I'm quite sure that 50 years from now our grandchildren will be cursing us.

However, as I've observed too often, politicians as a class are invariably educated in non-scientific disciplines such as law, literature and history. All of which create a mindset that looks to learning the lessons of the past for dealing with the present. The scientist's and technologist's ability to look forward to the future and extrapolate from the present is  beyond them.

So at a time when we need a break with the tried and tested, we are saddled with a global decision class incapable of such a leap.

Even worse: As people who cherish political dispute, there is a distrust of scientific truth; for them everything is up for grabs in a he-said, she-said debate where the more skilled orator wins, even if they have the flimsier argument. Scientists are at a disadvantage in this arena, they are used to winning a debate with superior facts. Yet now they seek to  operate in an environment where truth and lie are merely two sides of the same debased coinage.

It's no suprise that entrenched interests which only view the next quarterly balance sheet will win hands down every time.

We're fucked basically.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 20th, 2007 at 01:12:43 PM EST
We all have our reasons to despair, as they are plentiful.  But I can't let the old C.P. Snow argument go by, that scientists have "the future in their bones" while those schooled in the humanities are mired in the past. My own formal academic background is in literature, philosophy, the humanities--or perhaps more to the point, a background and attitude from the liberal arts. It takes a certain breadth of interest to see things from the future's perspective, and part of that is to recognize patterns from the past, and from the human psyche.  Scientists can be too narrow in their thinking and processes to do the synthesis, to acquire the vision.  In fact our best visionaries have had experience and knowledge in both camps, and have often expressed that vision in what we call science fiction--which takes scientifically derived possibilities and tests them against the context of behavior as found in other kinds of literature, for a more realistic assessment.

I'm grateful to you for writing a comment, as no one else has. Perhaps the response of others is, as in your parting comment ("We are all fucked basically") and so even thinking about the future leads to that ultimate (and ultimately depressing) non sequiter. So why comment, or even think about it?

The time traveller in the first modern science fiction story, "The Time Machine," by one of those science/literature visionaries, H.G. Wells, comes to a similiar conclusion.  But the narrator of the story comes to a different one: "If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so."  Or more to the point, to do what we can to create a better future, whatever the chances of success.
 

"The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan

by Captain Future (captainfuture is at sbcglobal dot net) on Sun May 20th, 2007 at 06:03:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so."  Or more to the point, to do what we can to create a better future, whatever the chances of success.

I comment cos I care, passionately, about the possibility of better futures. That they tend to despairing is my somewhat cynical and dystopian view of our leader class, who tend to do nothing other than suit their short-term ego and electoral needs.

You may be right that I paint scientists too white, but as a class they tend to be more evidence based in their musings than politicians, who prefer rhetoric to truth. Politicians base their careers on building tomorrow as a "better" yesterday. The idea that the conditions that made yesterday possible may cease to be true is outside of their mindset.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 21st, 2007 at 09:15:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for your thoughts and your passion.  I agree just about completely with what you write in your reply.  

"The end of all intelligent analysis is to clear the way for synthesis." H.G. Wells "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." Bob Dylan
by Captain Future (captainfuture is at sbcglobal dot net) on Mon May 21st, 2007 at 06:13:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Climate change is inextrictably wedded to Peak Oil. A major factor in CC was the use of oil as a form of cheap, easily transportable, source of energy.  As the hydro-carbons were burnt C02 levels rose initiating the CC process.  This process was slow.  If CC effects were immediate it would have been apparent, long before now, the connection between oil and CC.  

It is axiomatic in the epistemology 'biz' the valuation of information is based on the human Information Cycle.  This is the minimum time - roughly 1 second - a human requires to 'compute' one slice of input.  The further the slice of input is removed from this Instruction Cycle, call it, the greater the chance the human will discount the input.  

Ally this with the economic interests based on oil consumption: oil companies, automobile companies, labor unions, & etc.  

Now toss-in normal, natural, human expectation that what is will be and one gets were we are.

shrug

With the recent news of the Antartic carbon sink clogged with carbon the reality of our situation is going to become apparent, even to the oil companies, Real Soon Now.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun May 20th, 2007 at 11:34:35 PM EST


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