Who works best under pressure? Were you one of those kids who’d put off their homework, procrastinte until the last possible minute – or even pull all-nighters because you just feel that you work better under pressure? You’re not alone.
Have you noticed how for a really long time now it’s seemed like that’s exactly what we’re doing with climate change? We’ve known since the 70’s that we’re seriously messing up the world and that – at some point in the future – we’d have to deal with the consequences & sort it out. The last decade or has seen numerous (largely failed) attempts to address the climate issue on a global scale – just take the ambitious belly-flop of the Kyoto agreement. We’ve had countless warnings, heard innumerous scientists and politicians say the time to act is now, that we really need to address this… and then they’ve largely gone back to *metaphorically* checking their Facebook.
Have you also ever noticed how people only seem to really care about shit once it’s hit the fan? Things go: Inaction. Inaction. Inaction. Inaction. HUGE SUDDEN ACTION! (There’s actually a phenomenon within ecosystems like this, known as “Alternate Stable States” involving a sudden switch at the breach of a critical threshold, but today I’m talking about human behaviour.)
Well there might just be a reason for this.
Throughout human history, as we’ve gone about learning, taking examples from each other, trying to work out how to be and ultimately forming ourselves and culture, we have had one remarkable and treasured ability: to tell stories. You may be shocked to learn that, as a species we’ve actually only ever had one story, but, a bit like the 4-chord song, we’ve repeatedly just dressed it up a bit. One of my heroes, a guy-cum-science-communication-guru called Randy Olson (author of Houston, We Have A Narrative), reveals this in his book titled Connection.
This one, fundamental story of the human race is yours to play with for free in The Connection StoryMaker app, and it goes like this:
“In an ‘ordinary’ world, a ‘flawed’ protagonist gets their life upended when a catalytic event happens. After taking stock, the hero commits to action. But when stakes get raised, the hero must learn the lesson in order to stop the antagonist, so the hero can achieve their goal.”
Simple, right? Pause & think about it… yep, every story you’ve ever heard (the ones worth hearing anyway) has followed that pattern. Now let’s fit it to one of the stories that we’re collectively struggling to tell, and see how it goes: this is the story of Climate Change.
In an ordinary world... (that’s ‘the world’ in this case; doesn’t get more ordinary than that)
A flawed Protagonist… (that’s you, and the rest of the human race)
…get’s their life upended when a catalytic event happens. (it’s discovered & announced to the world that we’ve kinda messed it up, & fossil fuels etc. need to go).
After taking stock… (>97% of the world’s scientists agree the shit’s well en-route to the fan)
…Our hero commits to action. (Kyoto is attempted, things are said and vague assertions made. World leaders agree “we need to do something about this”.)
But when stakes get raised… (umm, hang on… nope. Things are still the same as how they were two steps ago, right?)
And herein lies the problem. Our stakes have not, yet, in any single remarkable event, been raised. Threats are still the same as those they’ve been warning us about for ages. We have not yet collectively felt the kick up our arses, had the ground taken out from beneath us, that tells our instinctive human brains that it’s now actually time for serious action. And to make it worse, we may not even believe that we can achieve our goal (or want to try to) until we’ve had the wind knocked out of us & we really have to fight for it. The story would lose quality if the hero were to win at stage 5, if they just went for their goal & achieved it. It would fail to satisfy.
But the reality of it is that the stakes have been raised, are rising, and will continue to rise, and the longer we let them harder the antagonist that is climate change is going to hit us. In our version of the classic story, we’re at the point where the Death Star is within range of Dantouine. Neo is about to open a door to see Agent Smith. Scar is about to tell Simba that he killed Mufassa. Jesus is about to be betrayed by Judas. Peter La Fleur is about to meet White Goodman in his hotel room… I could go on…
In fact I will go on. The Nazi’s are about to take France. Nelson Mandella is about to be imprisoned. Lance Armstrong is about to be diagnosed with brain, lung & testicular cancer, all at the same time. Malala Yousafzai is about to be shot in the head.
(And, back to movies and just to make things worse, in how many disaster-movies is there a Scientist who’s lengthily ignored yet ultimately gets to say “I told you this would happen”? )
The scary thing is that this could be really bad news for life on this planet. Though no Martyr ever died in vain… I just hope that we don’t need too big a martyr. I hope we don’t need to see too many climate refugees, to see too many species go extinct by collapsing home-ranges before we take the hit & say enough is enough.
But could we have reached that tipping point?
This last week has been a week-long celebration of the new UN Global Goals – 17 things that we’re striving for as a global community to make the world a better place. World leaders have come together, and in remarkable turns of events have committed to changing what we do, and how we do it, and that includes our impact on the climate & natural world. On 17 different points, the UN have said “Enough of this shit. We’re gonna fix this!” And they might actually mean it this time.
The US and China have made radical deals on reducing emissions already. To a country like the UK, which was recently bumped-off the top-10 renewables ranking by China, the stakes could have been raised to levels of Global ridicule – if not blame – if we don’t get our act together & fiercely become sustainable.
Like a shroud pulled from your eyes, let this be the shock and the wake-up call you need to raise your game. With this slap in the face, let the immortal words “What have I/we become?” slip through your lips, and then suit-up. Learn the lessons that need to be learned, and rise victorious. You may even get the girl & ride off into the sunset, if you do it right.