31 July 2008

The Age of Stupid

We know how to save the planet, but we choose not to. How stupid is that? If there are future generations, is that what they'll call us?

Are people alive now the stupidest in history? Future generations may well call us that. (If there is a future, that is.)

At the media and climate change conference I attended last week in Cape Town, one of the speakers used this wonderfully rude label: “The Age of Stupid”*, for what the early 21st century – our time – may come to be called in future.

Of all the ages of humankind, people have never had greater knowledge of what’s happening in the world than we do now. Yet we just can’t seem to get it together to translate that information into action.

And the information pouring in from the most reliable sources is that, every day, in every way, we are steadily soiling our own nest. Or, to put it more delicately, making the only home we have progressively unlivable.

Here’s a breakdown of just how stupid we’re being:

It’s stupid to tell ourselves that climate change isn’t happening because scientists say they’re uncertain. Of course they are! As Bruce Hewitson, internationally recognised climate change scientist from the University of Cape Town pointed out: scientists are nearly always uncertain, to a greater or lesser degree. That’s how science works: it’s continually questioning itself to make its statements more accurate. Scientists, he said, argue and disagree all the time as to how climate change is happening. But the overwhelming majority of top people in the field do not disagree that it’s happening. If someone says it isn’t, check their credentials.

It’s stupid to shrug off the fears as exaggerated. You don’t stop smoking because you know for sure you’ll get lung cancer. You stop because the risk is just too high. And besides, cancer or no cancer, there’s no question you’ll improve your health generally if you do stop.

It’s stupid to pretend it’s the fault of some nasty corporate and not us who are damaging the planet. We are.

It’s stupid to simply worry and talk about climate change, because worry and talk without action helps the problem precisely zero.

It’s stupid not to act because we think it’s a bit of a drag to make healthy changes. Sure it’s sometimes a bit of a drag. So is eating your vegetables; doesn’t change the fact that it’s the grownup thing to do.

And, honestly, it’s not all dull, this fate of the planet stuff. This is the greatest story of our time, maybe of all time, and we should want to be involved, helping rewrite it and thinking up a better title: The Age of Hope? The Age of Courage?

How about simply: The Age of Change?

One of the conclusions of the conference was that people don’t respond well to green finger-wagging by the media. Well, so much for that: I’m finger-wagging here alright, but at myself too (note how many times I’ve thrown in the word “we”). I’m guilty as anyone – maybe guiltier, because as an environmental writer I do a fair bit of talking, and could walk that talk a lot more.

So let’s just do it already. I’m going to pledge to start making some small, important changes to how I live my life, one at a time, and reporting back on them here – and I’m inviting you to join me. Post a message on my forum about just one thing you plan to do in August to help prove we’re not the Stupid generation.

Here’s a suggestion of what we’re going to try this coming month at Health24:

Change Number 1: Kick the car habit. OK, this one’s a soft start for me, because I’m already a comitted commuter cyclist. Or I was, until my bike was stolen a few weeks ago. I thought I’d rush out at once and buy a new one, but I haven’t yet. It’s been rainy. I’ve been busy. And motorised transport is so swift, so sleek, so seductive…

Watch this space…

- Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24, July 2008

*”The Age of Stupid” is the title of a new film starring Pete Postlethwaite as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055, watching footage from 2007 and asking: why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?

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