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I’m pleased to welcome Iain Patton as a contributor to BoomerWarrior.Org. Iain is a global sustainability engagement consultant based in London and founder of Ethical Team. I have accepted to become an influencer/amplifier of Iain’s Ethical Team. (Rolly Montpellier ~ Managing Editor/ BoomerWarrior). 

Dark Forces of Wilful Blindness , boomer warrior

It was recently the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania which was marked by memorial services across the United Kingdom and around the world. For those that don’t know, the RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner and briefly, the world’s largest passenger ship. She was launched by the British/American Cunard Line in 1906, at a time of fierce competition for the North Atlantic trade.

When the RMS Lusitania left New York for Liverpool on what would be her final voyage on 1 May 1915, submarine warfare was intensifying in the Atlantic during the 1st World War. Germany had declared the seas around the United Kingdom a war zone, and the German embassy in the United States had placed a newspaper advertisement warning people of the dangers of sailing on the Lusitania. On the afternoon of 7 May, Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-Boat, 11 mi (18 km) off the southern coast of Ireland and inside the declared “zone of war”. A second internal explosion sent her to the bottom in 18 minutes causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew.

One of the many interesting facets of this piece of history was the fact that the Germans had pre-notified the world of their prospective target before sinking the Lusitania, and yet its passengers falsely believed they would be immune from such a fate. The Imperial German Embassy had in fact placed the warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers at the time, including those in New York. Unbelievably this warning was even printed adjacent to the advertisement for Lusitania‍’s return voyage but other American newspapers dismissed the claim at the time as an idle threat.

Wilful Blindness

This is a good example of the phase made famous by Margaret Heffernan called ‘Wilful Blindness’. I was one of over 80 people who gathered on a delightful summers evening a couple of years ago at the Institute of Business Ethics in London to hear her speak about how as humans, we are predisposed to overlook things that we don’t like and how the concept of ‘them and us’, where catastrophes are provoked by a few ‘awful’ individuals, is not actually the case. The conversation went on to focus on the observation that humans choose conformity, rather than standing out from the crowd. And that studies from Europe and the US show that there is also culture of organisational silence, where 85% of respondents said there were issues that they wouldn’t voice in the workplace. This is clearly a societal condition that needs to be addressed.

Dark Forces of Wilful Blindness , boomer warrior hear-see-speak-no-evil1

March 2015 – (NOAA)  reveal the highest recorded ppm (parts for million)

This sad commemoration resonated as my daily inbox became typically overloaded with an array of environmental and mainstream news digests displaying attention grabbing headlines. One announced that for the first time in our recorded history, global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged more than 400 parts per million (ppm) for an entire month—in March 2015 (The highest EVER recorded). This seemed to highlight yet another grim, and yet largely unmarked milestone for an ever-warming planet according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) . “It was only a matter of time that we would average 400 parts per million globally,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

What does this really mean to most people I wonder?  This environmental narrative seems to hold little sway now as we’ve become so desensitised to these sorts of stories.  Charities realised long ago that featuring a child suffering from extreme famine in Africa doesn’t necessarily lead to any immediate emotional reaction or engagement in a world of saturated media.  As consumers we’ve developed an immunity and filter to block out these images, facts and figures from our daily lives as they don’t often, or in fact never, impact on our day to day existence.

In the same week, I heard that the Obama administration gave conditional approval to Shell to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean this summer. Shell has been fighting for the right to drill in the Arctic for years, despite a number of botched forays in recent years, and it looks like they are still going to get their way. The Arctic is the last pristine wilderness that is financially beyond protection should any disaster strike as a result of an open house policy allowing resource exploitation. These two stories seem to confirm that ‘generational blindness’ in the face of adversity is a human condition. It’s the same with cycle or pedestrian deaths where often preventative urban planning measures have not been implemented unless there are enough tragedies to justify a change in policy.

Parallel Narratives

According to climate change consultant, writer and psychotherapist Rosemary Randall, climate change discourse presents two parallel narratives. One about the problems of climate change, the other about the solutions. When media commentators discuss the problem of climate change, loss often features dramatically and terrifyingly in their stories but is located in the future or in places remote from Western audiences. In narratives about solutions – particularly in the discourse of government – loss is completely excised and we are encouraged to believe that ‘small steps’ and technical wizardry will do the trick alongside the advent of a low carbon economy.

Rosemary Randall’s paper suggests that this division into parallel narratives is the result of a defensive process of splitting and projection that protects the public from the need to truly face and mourn the losses associated with climate change. The effect is to produce monstrous and terrifying images of the future accompanied by bland and ineffective proposals for change now. She suggests that a more sophisticated understanding of the processes of loss and mourning, which allowed them to be restored to public narratives, would help to release energy for realistic and lasting programmes of change.

Old School Environmentalism VS ‘The New Environmentalism’

We therefore need to recognise the limits of what it means to be human and embrace the fact that we’re not going to always react when we need to act.  As humans we’ll continue to do what we know we shouldn’t. That’s partly because it’s what makes us human and we’re probably the only species that’s aware of our own demise and yet we don’t often take the precautions necessary to preserve our future. Therefore, as communicators we need to continue to explore and test new approaches to getting the single minded message across that we have change ahead, and that we need to be prepared for it. Martin Wright Senior Affiliate, Forum for the Future talks about ‘The New Environmentalism – Levelling the Playing Field’ in his TED Talk  where he suggests we need to focus more on the innovation and opportunity ahead, than the threats as there is a lot we will not be able to change or have an impact on at this stage in our human civilization.

Acclaimed self-help guru Tony Robbins also comments in one of his audio sessions that some people in the 21st Century have never had it so good. We have the best technology, people are living longer, experiencing the best healthcare and access to products and services that we could never have dreamt of 30 years ago. Sadly, this is not the case for everyone in the world right now. For those that are experiencing the good times they need to reflect on how their quality of living might be curtailed in a world exemplified by resource shortages, pollution and conflict without some clever planning now.

One of the biggest challenges facing the population in years to come will be itself. Not specifically in the form of war or conflict, but in terms of its’ size. In the wake of the birth of a collection of children symbolically referred to as the “seventh billionth babies”, it is now, ironically our quality of life that poses a significant threat certainly in the developed world.

We need to detach ourselves from that which is no longer sustainable, which is easier said than done, and remake our futures using all the creativity that exists and brought us to this point in the first place. We’ve come a long way in the last 2.5 million years ago since our more recent ancestor – Homo habilis or ‘man, the toolmaker’ appears to have evolved out of the Rift Valley in Africa.

Let’s celebrate the future and look ahead, but with a cautious eye that is weary of our own inherent frailty and absence of mind. It makes no sense to continue to ignore the perilous signs all around us. And, as an industry, communicators have to try harder to interpret the numbers associated with climate change so that they are not filtered out i.e. it’s not going to affect me mentality.  As we know from our own not too distant history the risks of wilful blindness are indeed perilous.

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  1. Patton wrote, “as communicators we need to continue to explore and test new approaches to getting the single minded message across that we have change ahead, and that we need to be prepared for it.”

    I’d say that is the most important task to get done first cuz without it we won’t get anywhere. I especially like that he used the phrase “single minded message” cuz again, without that we’ll never get to our single minded ‘mission’. We will have to become a species with one purpose to our lives, that is to restore the planet to it’s climate before our influence. We will have to forget about our own personal goals and be part of the larger scheme to create a livable planet. We will be doing this not for ourselves, but for future generations that we’ll never know.

    So, given that, it makes for a monstrous task to communicate that need, who’d believe it in the first place, and more so they gotta give a shit about it before they’ll accept it and react. Some will react, but not enough, too many will say, “Future generations? Screw’em, I got my own hell to deal with.”

    pardon me but the following is from another comment I made the other day at Grist, but it fits here even more:

    “There is no fancy way to communicate climate change and have it be impacting enough to bring us to a solution at any cost attitude. All’s we have is the projections of science and the impacts that we can see and feel today. And the way it looks at this point is that no communication scheme is going to move people to action, but catastrophe will. It appears you that can’t hope for rationality to convince people about something like climate change. That being said, the best we can do is point out what catastrophe looks like. Some say to go the other way and show what the wonderful world of renewables will be like, but that’d be a lie cuz there is no hope for a wonderful world at least for many centuries, No, it’s looking like to me that what’s gonna have to happen is an event that kills something like a million people, that will get our ass in gear cuz nobody wants to die.

    And that is the only thing one can communicate and hope for a energizing reaction, that is to try and tell people that death is coming, mass death. You tell them that cities are going to fall, that food and water issues are going to kill many people in both rich and poor nations. In other words, you gotta show the risk we are taking by heading down this path, you gotta show them that we have entered the gates of hell and if you wanna get out then your gonna have to work your ass off to do it. You don’t tell them the government will have to work, you tell them we the people will have to work and will have to change our lives dramatically. However, this will not likely work, but it’s worth a try. The truth is what will work but will also likely be too late is it’s gonna take something much greater than Sandy, or water shortages in Syria to get us off our ass. It’s likely gonna take something like the equivalent of 20 Sandy’s hitting all at once all over the world. This is sad, but I’d bet a dollar on it on any day that’s this is our true reality.”

    So in other words, communicate the worst case scenario and if they ask what the best case scenario is then just say there isn’t one cuz we’ve already past it 10 years ago.

    • Danny – I can tell that you’re passionate about what needs to happen. And you’re right in pointing out that perhaps the only thing humanity will “get” is unprecedented massive global disasters of the scope you describe – 20 Sandies happening all at once around the planet.

      But I refuse to give up. My climate activism will continue until my last breath. The stakes are that high and the prospect of accepting the “inevitable” is simply non-existent for me. I’m putting a lot of faith that the Paris climate talks will yield a world agreement on reducing emissions. But even it it happens, it will only be a small piece of what needs to happen between now and 2050 to get to zero emission.

      Thank you for your frank and sobering observations.

  2. In Dec. World Leaders are to meet in Paris to discuss Global Warming, at issue is the amount of greenhouse gases we our emitting, and their plan of action, to Stop this Heating Up and Burning Up our Planet !

    Globally we our emitting 40 – 50 Billion Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide a Year.

    The United States emitted 6.8 Billion Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014

    In the 1850s – 1870s parts per million of Carbon in our atmosphere was between 260 – 280.

    In the 1980s, there was 350 ppm of Carbon.

    2015 – 404 ppm in Our Atmosphere.

    We have passed the 1C. baseline Temp Increase !

    India, Pakistan, Japan, and the Middle East, Record Breaking, Killing Heat Waves !

    The Pacific Ocean is 3 – 8 degrees warmer than Normal, and flowing in to the Arctic Ocean !

    Massive Whale, Salmon, Starfish, Sea Lion, Sea Stars, Sea Urchin and Bird Die – Offs !

    The Jet Stream is acting like a balloon that is loosing air.

    The Arctic Ice and Snow may be gone at the end of this Summer or Next. A Huge Natural Cooler for the Northern Hemisphere, that no man or woman has ever lived without !

    The meeting in Paris, should be about Closing the Fossil Fuel Faucet.

    “Professor Chris Field is bullshitting the planet. On whether 1.5C is still feasible” Kevin Hester

    “The message is already clear, that if the world does want to strive to limit warming to 1.5C or less, we don’t have very much of the carbon budget left.” Professeor Chris Field

    “There is no carbon budget any more and 5C is baked in according to both Shell petroleum and the International Energy Authority. ” Kevin Hester

    “Chris Field is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s department of global ecology and professor for interdisciplinary environmental studies at Stanford University. He is the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) working group two (WGII) and US nominee for the chair of the IPCC.”
    With people like this driving the IPCC you can see why we are all done for.” Kevin Hester.

    There is No Carbon Budget

    California emitted 459 Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014.

    Gov Browns call to reduce this to 1990 levels so we can continue to emit over 400 million Toxic Tons a year, will not help us stop or slow down Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising.

    “Updates to the 2020 Limit.
    Calculation of the original 1990 limit approved in 2007 was revised using the scientifically updated IPCC 2007 fourth assessment report (AR4) global warming potentials, to 431 MMTCO2e. Thus the 2020 GHG emissions limit established in response to AB 32 is now slightly higher than the 427 MMTCO2e in the initial Scoping Plan.” Ca. Gov. Data

    What will the Temp. be at 415 ppm ?

    “Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet).” National Snow and Ice Data Center.

    When will Sea Level Rise to 220 – 300 Feet ? 2020 ? 2025 ? ?

    What will the ppm of Carbon be when this happens ?

    As of Now, they are talking about capping GHGs at 450 ppm.

    What will the Temp. be at 450 ppm ?

    We must transition to 100% Renewable Energy

    Implement a California Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff.

    California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from, Global Warming, Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking.

    A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour.

    Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.

    • Daniel – thank you for including the petition in your response.

      The list of issues/problems is discouraging. Maybe we need a list of all the good things that are happening. Would you accept to do that and submit it here as a follow-up? Please note that I’m not trying to detract from the work you’ve done in compiling your comprehensive list of climate facts. Great work.So much needs to be done.

      I’ve signed and shared your petition.

      • I have signed the petition too… it is unusal for signatures from countries outside the US on American matters, but I believe it to be important for others to voice concerns where it affects everyone on the planet.

  3. I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard a new definition of what it means to be human and why we appear to dominate the planet in increasingly unsustainable numbers, Apparently, looking at the criteria that makes us different from other animals, we are the only animal that has developed the ability to kill others (our own species, or other species) with the least possible risk to ourselves. We can kill from afar – for example, shoot a lion, before it can reach us to defend itself with counter attack.

    This seemingly simple ability of ours to annihilate all competition for food and water, space to live, and taking resources for economic development , without paying any price has, made us a profligate species in the short term. We have no enemies but ourselves. But make no mistake, this awful ability to destroy, leads to greedy hoarding, war, human extermination, genocide and eventually civilization collapse.

    If we do not use our large brains to break out of our competitive “primate” behaviours, our species will not evolve enough to save ourselves, let alone the planet. Humans currently, will not deny themselves anything. They do not believe what other humans tell them, nor do they believe that anything else in nature can kill them.

    We will need a wake up call – perhaps a “Lucitania” type event will be required to wake people up!

    • Hi Colette – nice to see you back. With a new computer no doubt.

      This article by Iain Patton (from the UK as you likely noted) illustrates our ability, or perhaps it’s an inability, to postpone until tomorrow what we don’t need to do today. The thing is we will run out of tomorrows. It’s like the smoker with lung cancer who wheels himself/herself out of the hospital room to go outside or to the smoking lounge to have another cigarette. Just one last one and then I’ll quit the patient thinks. We’re the same way with climate change. Let’s deal with it tomorrow.

      We are making tiny baby steps when what we really need are wide giant steps. The race shall be lost.

      Thanks as always for your comments.

      • Hi Rolly,
        No, not a new computer (still waiting for replacement – under guarantee) – just a borrowed one. I just can’t keep away – I like to see what you are putting on your website!
        I like your response to Daniel – we certainly do need to find some positives – the negatives are overwhelming. I wonder how we can get that wake-up call to people so the tiny steps become gigantic steps towards cleaning up our atmosphere and planet?

  4. Rolly–For about 20 years I tossed back and forth with should I be positive or should I be real, finally about three or four years ago I decided to go with the reality of it all. Yet, we don’t actually know the reality of this as far as the future goes. But then, a guy can make a pretty good guess just with a little examination of the science. And of course the conclusion for a reasonable and honest person as it pertains to the future would be we are in grave danger if not all the way dead.

    But here’s the deal we are finding with the reasonable and honest person, it doesn’t seem to matter whether we are positive about this or negative about it, on average they still are sitting on their ass acting as if all is well. This is true for the common man as well as the high level politician. So, what to do?

    Well I don’t know what to do for sure, I’m taking my best guess and at this point and I’m seeing that slamming them with the potential reality of our future is the best way to go. Do I know that for sure? No. But I will say this, their is only so much of positive one can get about climate change, especially if you are dealing with facts. Say for instance Al Gore, I love the man but he has this thing so far out of reality it almost makes me cry. We will not maintain economic growth and all the wonders of life he hopes for, we simply have gone too far, that’s science. Is that an absolute a sure thing? No. But it’s the closest thing to it and to pretend otherwise is a failure towards truth.

    You can only go so far with the positive before you start telling lies, but with the negative there’s no end all the way to a Venus like planet. One can say that and not be lying because that potential is there. Or one can tone it down and say that many are going to die and life is going to get hard but we might survive this. See, that would be much closer to reality than to say we are heading into the space age so don’t worry about it. In any case, do I think you are wrong to try and stay positive towards a good future? No I don’t, because we don’t know yet if positive is better or is negative better, but I’d bet a buck and a half that if we truly started to lay out the potential danger of this, and I mean attack it with everything: radio, tv, politician speeches, internet venues…use any way possible to be broadcasting death and destruction 24 hours a day, if we did that I’d bet it all that we’d get way further on action that we are now with Al Gore’s M.O. The way I see it is the problem is not the negative talk, it’s that we ain’t been talking it nearly enough to see it work… but I admit that’s maybe. But the positive talk ain’t no maybe, it simply is not working, imo. It might if we’d lie out our teeth but that would accomplish nothing.

    • Well, Danny – that’s quite a lot there… I am trying to avoid being negative about Climate change, because it does seem quite hopeless and being negative brings my spirit way down. I am trying to do positive things, but actually, I see civilisation collapse coming. When? Could be in my lifetime, but more likely in about 50 years. I guess that is about as negative an outlook as you can get!

  5. Danny and Colette,

    The fact is that I don’t know what to do. Some days I feel a glimmer of hope and then the next day I’m totally realistic and see the collapse of our civilization, of life as we know it. Some life will survive, the planet will go on, but our species and thousands of others will be be clinging to life.

    As for the Climate Reality messages of Al Gore, perhaps the name should be changed to Climate Unreality. But I understand what Gore is doing. He’s playing the positive song and wants the thousands of climate reality leaders around the globe (I’m a trained Climate Reality leader) to all sing from the same song book. There is research in psychology that demonstrates that people just turn off the negative. It doesn’t work.

    Now the question is, are we delaying climate action by focusing on the positive?

    Thank you both for your continued interest in BoomerWarrior.

    • In a way, being “positive” has a negative effect because Politicians turn to other matters when a “threat” appears to have gone away.

      For instance, If I state to my government that I recycle everything, try not to use fossil fuels (walk more instead of driving), invest in solar panels and wind power in my home, compost and eat organic and use an earth toilet or live completely off-grid and only have 1 child to bring down population levels, I will only be seen as a guiding example one of those geen Nimby (Not in my Back Yard) people, who might also be a bit of a nutter!!

      To shout and scream and point out all the ill-health and demise of the planet in the face of global warming, increasing greenhouse gases and poisons dumped into our environments, seems to get government attention a little more. If voters believe they are dying because politicians have failed to meet their needs, government sits up and takes notice.

      For me personally, being negative (shouting and screaming) is so draining that I have to move to the positive just to remain sane.

      There will be a shift… and it will come soon. I just hope that some of us survive the upheaval.

      Roll on Paris… a lot of us are pinning our hopes on the COP21. If it fails, we will just be playing Pooh Sticks as to when the first disasters hit.

      • I agree that Paris is “the moment”. If we fail there, the tailspin will begin.

        As for the ‘should I be positive or should I be negative’ question, I’ve come to the conclusion that talking about how well we’re doing or pointing out the steps in the right direction – solar panels, electric vehicles, etc – makes people feel good but it also absolves them from having to do more. People go on thinking that we’re on the right track and that we will find solutions somewhere along the way.

        We need a million more like Naomi Klein, Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben who continue to shout from their rooftop. I’m a nano version of them. We do have to change everything I say.


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