Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Seeking a Social World Solution with Objective World Thinking

Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent for Reuters, has submitted a report on a climate change conference that convened about 750 miles from the North Pole. Here is his lead:

Climate change is the biggest security challenge since the Cold War but people have not woken up to the risks nor to easy solutions such as saving energy at home, experts said on Tuesday.

"We're not yet collectively grasping the scale of what we need to do," British climate change ambassador John Ashton told a seminar of 40 scientists and officials from 13 nations in Ny Alesund, Norway, about 1,200 km (750 miles) from the North Pole.

He said global warming should be recast as a security issue, such as war or terrorism, to help mobilize support for tougher global action to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

"The Cold War was the last big problem the world faced on so many fronts -- economic, political, industrial," he said.

This may be a sign that even the scientific community is recognizing that all the powers of the objective world may lack the necessary utility when the problem actually resides in the social world. This was particularly evident in another observation from Doyle's report:

Researchers noted that people often act without weighing up long-term consequences -- many smoke cigarettes or eat too much without rationally reviewing risks of lung cancer or obesity.

Nevertheless, at least in Doyle's account, there seemed to be a general reluctance to accept the idea that there are "laws" about the nature of the social world, which, even if not as hard-and-fast as the laws of physics, need to be recognized when trying to solve problems. In the past I have tried to compile a list of such laws. Two of those laws summarize my reaction to this seminar:

  1. Comfort is the enemy of will.
  2. People who are comfortable do not want change, since that may lead to discomfort.

Both of these laws imply that we are unlikely to see action until the discomfort becomes prevalent enough to impact the behavior of those who currently lack the will to address the problem. There are, of course, those who would prefer to take refuge in "faith-based truths" or, worse yet, the precepts of what I have called "secular Messianism;" and many of those folks may even be strong enough to weather many winters of discontent. My hope, however, is that their influence over those who make and implement policy, which has been so strong during the current Presidential administration, will begin to ebb as the general level of discomfort increases. With any luck this will happen before we end up like the smoker who only recognizes that he has a problem after he has to rely on an oxygen tank.

No comments: