Are Humans Really Too Stupid to Prevent Climate Change?

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I’m honestly afraid to say yes, but I fear it is so. Below are some sobering conclusions from the Gaian theorist, 90-year-old James Lovelock, on our species’ prognosis. I agree with him profoundly. And if you want to be inspired about the road through this swamp, read a bit about political psychology at the end here.

Let’s begin.

“I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle a[s] complex a situation as climate change.”

“The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.”

He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica, such as the Pine Island glacier, which would immediately push up sea level.

via James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change | Environment | The Guardian.

Here, Lovelock is talking about our collective ignorance of systems theory. We don’t understand that we belong to something large and complicated and interconnected. We are deluded, thinking we’re individuals who can separate ourselves from our environment, particularly when it turns sour.

Freakish bubble bee population declines concern some people because the price of honey may go up. In reality, they are somewhat critical in all of us…eating food. Even community newspapers are recognizing the fact of the hive crisis, but they can’t go more than one level of analysis to the point of exploring the implications of the immediate consequences.

If you don’t get it, or somewhat get it and want to spend 45 seconds reflecting more on systems theory as a systemic approach to re-visioning your life and interrelationships, read about it here.

Now do something about it with some understanding of political psychology, but first read about pianos falling upon your head. My favourite comment about the Lovelock article:

I was wondering if it’s worth trying to develop a falling piano metaphor here (I like falling piano metaphors).

How about:

1. You’re walking down the street and you see a falling piano. Right underneath it is a person who is totally oblivious to the situation. You shout a warning but they refuse to believe in the piano. Are you justified in pushing them out of the way?

2. How about if they’re holding onto their kids and still refuse to move?

3. How about if they’re holding onto _your_ kids and still refuse to move?

4. What if they say they’re going to wait a bit to see what happens? How long do you wait?

How long do you wait? How long does society wait, or the prime minister or premier or 5 million random Canadians?

Why do we wait? Why do we write our term paper the night before it is due? What is the human motivation and political psychology behind our dysfunctional dynamics? Joe Brewer explores this.

Insight No. 1

Emotions bias our rationality and entrench our irrationality. What falling piano?

Insight No. 2

Our tendency to categorize elements of our worlds into compartments, inherently undermines our ability to see the systems we swim in. Your politics keeps you ignorant of the falling piano…let go of my kids!

Insight No. 3

Our subjectivities mean we actually live in different worlds. The post-modern notion of reality being aggregate inter-subjectivities may be relevant but it doesn’t stop people from honestly not seeing the piano’s shadow enlarging around them.

But then Brewer’s Strategy for Political Change really challenges us to move well past demonizing our “ignorant” opponents and enemies. How many of us can actually engage our enemies? It’s like Jesus saying we should love our enemies.

Brewer: Look for key differences in group understandings and seek common ground through shared aspects of culture. Build trust by earnestly seeking to know the other. And aspire toward new coalitions based on core concerns that unite culturally distinct communities across the nation around the fundamental human condition we all share.

Let me put it this way.

Is averting the climate crisis a sufficient motivator to reach across the aisle?





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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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8 thoughts on “Are Humans Really Too Stupid to Prevent Climate Change?”

  1. your assumption is that because of climate change we are headed for disaster but every time we burn ‘fossil’ fuel we are putting back into our atmosphere co2 that must have been there before the fossilized plants grew or the fossilized animals lived,they took out the co2 and locked it into the ground.So we are obviosly heading back to the future,to a climate that supported animal and plant life on a large scale,since it would require large amounts of these to produce so much fossil fuel.We should be speculating what life was like then from fossil fuel records.

  2. i don’t agree that all our cows farting and the hummer driving to the 7-11 down its street puts co2 back into the atmosphere that was already there and we’re restoring it, thereby somehow making it “right” again in any kind of equilibrium, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

    the issue is that human-caused climate change is altering the planet’s temperature to a degree that will affect the viability of the 6.8b people.

    temperatures go up and down historically. we get ice ages and hot times. i don’t like either of those because we can’t all survive in conditions much different from what we’re in now.

    since the industrial revolution we are artificially altering our climate to an unsustainable point.

    i don’t actually care what some fred flintstone historical climate was like. it’s not going to help us.

    just because some condition existed before doesn’t mean that it was good or desirable for us.

    increasing the planet’s temperature 2-4 degrees, which is where we’re headed if we don’t get rid of the tar sand developments, the coal plants, the hummers and most of the cows…is not sustainable.

    the planet’s resilient. it doesn’t care if ocean levels rise 3-10 metres or if there’s another ice age. it’s just the planet. it owes humans nothing and we’ve been shitting on it something fierce.

    but if we want to keep or improve our current level of arable land, biodiversity and reltive absence of category 5 hurricanes, we need to fix our way of living.

    when we speculate on life back then, i don’t see 6.8b people living in any kind of decent way.

    i think we should avoid that.

    there’s a piano falling. my kids and the kids of those far more vulnerable are being held under it by stephen harper and the gang of miscreants. i’m not going to let the kiddies get smoked.

  3. You seem to be saying that in order to avoid some ‘fred flintstone ‘existance we ought to embrace some kind of fred flintstone existance now,that puts you in a no win situation.You are right though about the huge population though but not the cows since it is our inefficient agricultural practices [2 dimensional farming]which are half as efficient at absorbing co2 as the human lung[3dimensional]is atbreathing co2 out.3dimensional farming has been abandoned to feed such a huge population.

  4. i’ve been advocating for reducing the ecological footprint of the industrialized world since 1986.

    climate breakdown emerging in recent decades only intensifies my interest.

    the no-win situation is only for people in developed countries used to a birthright of immense material satisfaction while around 5 billion people live with standards of living a fraction of ours.

    a world where everyone can live in a sustainable way is a win for everyone.

  5. Now this is good stuff,we have much in common then since i also believe in co-operation for the good of all people.I believe that each person can create an environment around them which exactly matches their body an environmental kidney to match our own kidney,environmental lungs to match our own lungs,an environmental liver and heart to match our own,the only thing missing is our environmental skin[our temperature control] this is CLOUDS We had i believe clouds to control temperature accross the whole earth and give us even temperature and of course no wind would blow in such a pre-historic time therefore every person would have to live in their own environment.We somehow lost this environmental cloud skin and now what we are heading for as we put back co2 lost with the clouds is the restoration of that cloud band around the earth,our lost environmental skin.If u r rich your riches will not help u in such a situation and if u r poor u will have enough land that rich people can’t use to build your own environmental body around you.Try to imagine life whith even temperatures and no wind because when hotter oceans meet colder antarctic oceans cloud is produced.see coast of labrador warm gulf stream meeting iceburgs[fog]warm moist air from your mouth meeting cold dry air on frosty morning.Global warming like u say could be bad for the rich and good for the poor, will be v happy too.

  6. You will never convince the rich to give up their riches willingly or by political means.When did u see an american president elected without massive financial backing from rich men .To be president of america is a great honor,to whom does he owe the honor?Global warming however especially my projections of cloud and wind stopping will certainly bang the worlds leaders heads together and force them to do something.Hording gold or money or even land will do them no good in such a situation,but we who beleive can prepare and be an example to others in how to live simply and healthy lives so that when the grenhouse does come others will be able to follow.

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