#34 – Bruce Fisher, Carol Ashley: The Conversation about Climate Change

A reader comment follows this post.
Note from Moderator: On the local evening news on June 1, the weatherman noted that May, 2009, was one of the driest on record, exceeded only by May, 1934, a year of great drought.  Is May, 2009, just an unusual month of weather, or a looming manifestation of serious climate change problems to come?  Are those concerned about climate change simply worry-warts, or are those unconcerned denying an unpleasant reality?  Do we live in the moment, or act for the long term?
In early April, I publicized a website that features a 20+ section “Crash Course” to help understand the possibilities of the future, and by understanding help deal with those possibilities.  The website is http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse for those interested.  In my opinion it’s well worth the three hours it takes to view the sections. 
Carol Ashley took the time to view the series, and commented on it in #19 on this blog, May 11, 2009.
Bruce Fisher also took the time and on May 25 posted the following, to which Carol filed her own response.
Bruce Fisher: I’ve been thinking about the “Crash Course” and the significance of its concepts for our environment and economy.  A few days ago, [an] article by George Lakoff appeared in the Huffington Post and it struck me that framing is understanding and the environment and economy need to be framed together (the [political] right has done this for years with the emphasis on the environment as material resource for the economy).  As a cognitive scientist, Lakoff knows this best.  For those who have taken the “Crash Course”, [the Lakoff commentary at http://tinyurl.com/08pwon] is an especially relevant article.  [ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/why-environmental-underst_b_205477.html ]
Carol Ashley:  From Lakoff’s article “…one of the things Westen and Lake get right is in an incomprehensible diagram on the back page: an explanation of why discussions of climate fail.  It is hidden in a discussion of “associations,” an inadequate way of discussing the public’s frame-based logic.  Climate and weather are usually understood as beyond immediate causation, something you are subject to, but can’t just go out and change right away.  Climate is not directly and causally connected to the values that underlie our concerns about our planet’s future: empathy, responsibility, freedom, and our ability to thrive.  They try to say that in the diagram, but the arrows and lines don’t communicate it.”
What I see in my rural area is that people are prone to see the weather as a daily event: at the most, a weekly or seasonally based phenomena.  It’s kind of the same problem in government…no long range vision.  So people are prone not to see the effects of short term actions, not to see the actuality of broader patterns and rather base assumptions on climate on a cooler than usual spring season, for example.
Rural people and those in small towns often value community and their particular environment.  (Their community tends to be very small comprising only their extended family, church and friends.)  They don’t value getting rich.  They also don’t trust government and haven’t for years. They vote and expect who they voted for to do the work of politics.  They tend not to stay informed.  They don’t have the time and the access to information.  And their lives are often a struggle to survive.  They, therefore, don’t make policy so these observations may not apply to others, but I think some applies to just being human and there are plenty of poor people in cities who for racial reasons are also mistrustful of others and rely on their communities.
There is also an issue of “delayed gratification” here, I think.  That ability to do what needs to be done, sacrificing what one wants for what one will have in the future and even forgoing what one wants for the sake of one’s children and grandchildren.  It’s easier to do that for one’s own children than to consider the world’s children.  I think, in order for delayed gratification to be possible for an individual, one has to have some basic needs met, like food, shelter and some measure of health.  Long-term poverty undermines that.
The reason this may be important is that those on the extreme right are often rural and poor.  People in cities who live in poverty are often focused on basic needs, too, and need framing that applies to them more immediately and practically.  The difference between the rural and city poor, I think, is the very fierce independence of the rural and their valuing of that independence and the rural environment over the desire for wealth.  Either way, the best way to reach these people is through major media and through churches.  (Even then they tend to be pretty independent minded and hold to what they have always believed.)  The framing has to reach them that way.  So the first step is back to square one, in my opinion.  Get corporations out of government and create an avenue for non-profit media.  Is that even possible any more?  Like most rural people, I doubt it.  The super rich are in control and will be.  Haven’t they always been?  Even in the beginnings of our country?
I suppose my pessimism comes partly from being rural and poor.  I have little ability to be an activist.  The poor and rural always seem to be at the mercy of others.
Note from Moderator: Essays from others on this topic are solicited.  Watch future entries.

1 reply
  1. Bruce Fisher
    Bruce Fisher says:

    Carol’s comment about being poor and it effects on “delayed gratification” are understandable. In our individually autonomous view of reality where it comes down to freedom, safety, and security for one’s self and one’s family is maximized by how well we compete and dominate. The poorer financially we are the smaller our sense of community can get. However, if we frame climate change on how it affects our individual and community freedom, safety, and security, and see our selves and family’s freedom, safety, and security as part of the safety and security of the planet we gain a sense of “oneness” and that we are all in this together. A crisis helps focus this sense of “oneness”. An example is the Red River Flood earlier this year where the people of the Red River in Fargo and other places saw family as something larger than themselves and were willing to work together for the good of the larger community. The frame was certainly the potential flood threatened their freedom, safety and security. If that frame could be stretched to include poverty, homelessness, famine,illiteracy, health care, and despair we could start to remake society into one that values “oneness” over individualism, and generosity over selfishness. For the concepts of the “Crash Course”, in the next 20 years, we will have to make due with a less materialistic idea of freedom. If freedom is framed differently, we will be better able to recognize the problem of a financial system that needs infinite expansion and limited global resources. It will be easier to see what has to be done not only to survive but to thrive. This is a time of opportunity and its exciting. I’m hopeful.

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