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People too overwhelmed to act on climate change, say leading scientists

Article from: Agence

This article shows us we need to engage people in new and creative ways on this issue, so they don't give up and disengage. Hopefully the Transition approach will be found useful in this regard! - David

SCIENTISTS say they are haunted by the failure to convey to the world just how close Earth is to climate catastrophe.

Top researchers who gathered in Copenhagen for a climate change conference said they were worried that people could not psychologically deal with the enormity of the problem and were reverting to doing nothing.

French glaciologist Claude Lorius, one of the first scientists to publish in 1987 evidence that global warming was real, said he despaired of getting the message across.

"At first, I thought that we could convince people. But there is a terrible inertia,'' he said.

"I fear that society is not up to the challenge of a crisis like this. Today, as a human being I am pessimistic.''

John Church, an expert on sea levels at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart, took an equally dim view of our collective capacity for denial.

"Perhaps society has realised the seriousness, but it certainly hasn't realised the urgency,'' he said.

"But even if you are pessimistic - and sometimes I am - it does not help. What are you going to do? Chop off your hands and give up? That's not a solution either,'' he said.

But even if it is urgent to let the world know just how bad it could be, there is also a danger of frightening people into inaction, said other scientists.

"As a scientist, I deal with climate change on a time scale of hundreds of thousands of years, and even I have a hard time dealing with it,'' Williams Howard, a researcher at the University of Tasmania said...

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Comment by David MacLeod on March 26, 2009 at 12:31pm
Hi Mel,

Your comments about inertia remind me of Lester Brown, who has been saying for years that the lack of inertia is the biggest problem we face. Most recently in an interview at Share Guide he says "I suppose the biggest obstacles are the sense of social inertia and a failure to realize the gravity of the situation we're in. As one who's been tracking these issues for over 30 years now, it seems to me that we're in trouble--almost all the environmental trends are headed in the wrong direction. Forests are shrinking, deserts are expanding, water tables are falling, fisheries are collapsing, species are disappearing, temperature is rising, and associated with that are a whole series of climate related trends. We probably don't have to go beyond ice melting to see that we're in serious trouble."

What I really like about the Transition approach is the balance I find in many areas, one of which is in being positive and hopeful and inspiring but at the same time being realistic, acknowledging and dealing with the fear and despair that comes up.

I would not say that others have failed. Whatcom County is blessed to have many great people and organizations that have accomplished much, and have laid the foundation that increases the likelihood of a successful Transition Whatcom. However, the situation we find ourselves in now demands that we ALL need to step it up and take it to the next level.

Will TW be the organization that gets the job done? Will TW succeed where others have not worked? That remains to be seen. Rob Hopkins, in a response to a criticism of Transition Initiatives as "premature tri..." stated his opinion that the "Cheerful Disclaimer" is the most important thing on the Transition Network website:

"Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact. We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale. What we are convinced of is this:

* if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late
* if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little
* but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.

Everything that you read on this site is the result of real work undertaken in the real world with community engagement at its heart. There’s not an ivory tower in sight, no professors in musty oak-panelled studies churning out erudite papers, no slavish adherence to a model carved in stone.

This site, just like the transition model, is brought to you by people who are actively engaged in transition in a community. People who are learning by doing - and learning all the time. People who understand that we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. People like you, perhaps…"

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post Mel - much to chew on there. In regards to your last comment, may it be so! - "The small group that has assumed the leadership of TW need all the help they can get. I assert that once they have communicated their purpose, and it becomes clear to people how to engage in their own enrollment, a strong momentum may start."
Comment by Mel Hutto on March 24, 2009 at 12:23pm
We need an organization that will be conscious enough in its own self to allow for the inertia and despair, yet will challenge us to move and act. Such an organization would, I believe, be imbued with inspiring goals and objectives, doable and enrolling. The challenge to TW is birth itself outside the inertia, or otherwise it will simply be another ingredient in the soup. Transition Whatcom has assumed an incredible role and responsibility: its message to people of Whatcom County is that this is the organization that will get the job done, not another "front" of uninspired, pretentious activity. TW is saying, "Others have failed, but we have a more realistic, powerful, inclusive vision and purpose; we will succeed where others have not worked."
And now, as was the case with the city/county task force, we, in our inertia, will wait to see what TW becomes. The individuals who have taken TW on, and those who will enroll themselves in the project, put their commitment on parade.
The small group that has assumed the leadership of TW need all the help they can get. I assert that once they have communicated their purpose, and it becomes clear to people how to engage in their own enrollment, a strong momentum may start.

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