Tilting the Balance

Alexander Nix, of the now defunct Cambridge Analytica, observed that to drive human actions a narrative ‘doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be believed.’ Dan Kahan, Yale Professor of Law and Psychology , explains that ‘What you believe about climate change doesn’t reflect what you know, it expresses who you are.’ Combine the two, and the fate of the IPCC’s latest “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees” (SR15) is predictable. Those who already accept that human actions are driving the climate system into a dangerous state, requiring urgent and massive preventative action, will be yet more convinced. And those who don’t, won’t.

This is despite the fact that the rigour of the process and the weight of the evidence achieve an impressive new high. The report concludes that the damages incurred in a world warmed by 2 degrees are substantially greater that one warmed by 1.5 degrees. This is a daunting insight – not least as regards the implication for the 3 degree world to which we are currently heading. It also concludes that time has almost run out if we are to stand a chance of respecting the 1.5 degree guardrail.

But these are just facts. And when unity of purpose, globally, is critical, the ironic outcome will almost certainly be increased division through a doubling down of beliefs. So the future of the planet, and the fate of its residents, will continue to rely on the margin of action between those striving for a clean, green and inexhaustible future, and those seeking actively to resist.

So what should you and I do?

The internet provides a profusion of advice: use energy frugally and wisely, change to clean energy, consume less, waste less, travel differently (and less), eat differently (and less), become politically active, tell your story, engage your community and peers. In short, use your Choice, Vote and Voice.

But there is more. Each of us has talents, experience and connections. There are inspiring individuals who have had the commitment and courage to exploit these to drive dramatic and material change, often at considerable personal risk: individuals who have transformed neighbourhoods, companies, and government actions.

A shining example is Greta Thunburg, the 15 year old Swedish schoolgirl whose “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” has captured imaginations nationally and internationally, and who brings shame on all who profess concern yet wring their hands and do nothing. It’s a moral outrage that we are not supporting Greta by mobilising our intellects, institutions and resources to secure change at the scale and speed necessary to protect her future. We owe it not only to Greta, but to our children, grandchildren and all creatures yet to come. “No generation has a freehold on this Earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease” (M. Thatcher).

So think about it – what contribution can you make?

It’s time for all of us to step up to tilt the balance.

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