The vision thing
Over on Worldchanging, Alex addresses a subject that’s dear to my heart, namely what George Bush Sr. famously called The Vision Thing.
He rightly points out that the kinds of solutions being discussed fall absurdly short of what’s needed to avoid the worst of climate change. Scientists now say we need to cut global GHG emissions by 70 percent in the next decade or so; Kyoto would cut them by 5.5 percent, and it’s the best we’ve got right now, and the U.S. hasn’t ratified it, and the countries that have aren’t meeting its targets.
This is to say nothing of the "change a light bulb and properly inflate your tires" school of solutions one often finds in mainstream media outlets.
Why the gap? Alex suspects, as do I, that what’s missing is a clear vision: a picture of what a sustainable world would look like. (Regular readers will be familiar with my obsession with this topic.)
Worldchanging being Worldchanging, they focus pretty heavily on technical solutions. And thank gawd somebody’s bringing all that stuff together.
But I am equally fascinated by the psychology and sociology of change. How do people approach and think about large changes? What’s the best way to "sell" sweeping, concerted change in a society that is, whatever its problems, at least for the moment rich and comfortable?
People must be able to visualize what they’re fighting for before they will rise to the occasion. And I would add, they must be able to visualize a desirable future world before they can really absorb the scale of the problem. The mind’s capacity for denial should never be underestimated. It’s much, much easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist than to face the prospect that everything you’ve ever known is in danger of crumbling. That’s why climate denialists have held on long past the point when science has made a mockery of their positions — there’s a hunger for what they’re saying.
As I keep saying, I’m working on (i.e., periodically thinking and feeling guilty about) a series of longer posts about this stuff. But here’s some general framing.
The "vision" people are offered will need to be context-sensitive, depending where they live and their own level of education and wealth. But any vision at all will need to be not incidentally but primarily about values.
Talk about values is hopelessly confused and narrow in this country. Lord knows I’m not talking about gay marriage or repressive sexual mores. All I mean is that people must be able to envision themselves, or their children or grandchildren, living a life of quality, integrity, and meaning. Our vision must be not only technically possible but resonant with people’s non-material needs and desires.
Complicating matters is the fact that in times of change, people become more conservative in their values, not less. Anxiety prompts a reaching out for the familiar, for that which grounds — family, community, and tradition. (This is behind the famed tendency of red states, where regressive economic policy causes the most dislocation and insecurity, to vote for the very "values candidates" that implement that policy.)
The scale of change required by climate change is extraordinary. There will be great anxiety involved. People will be reaching out for what grounds them. That’s why I think the vision we ask people to fight for must not be framed as something radically new, a sharp break with human culture and history. It must be framed as a return, in many ways, to values that the hyper-charged era of cheap oil almost destroyed: Self-reliance. Rootedness in a place and a community. Mutual care.
Anyway, more on this, someday over the rainbow.