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“Time of Useful Consciousness” by Ralph Chapman – commentary by RWK

Time of Useful Consciousness, by Ralph Chapman, 2015                          Acting Urgently on Climate Change (one of the BWB series)

Dr Chapman lays out in chapters 1 – 4 the current mainstream description of the science of global warming and reasons urgent action is required.

Then in chapter 5, enigmatically titled “The Risks to Balanced Governance”, he gets around to describing more deeply what is revealed in the state of global politics 2015.

He quotes Andrew Hoffman, writing in the US:

. . . . there appears to be a deepening schism between the sceptical and convinced logics, one that rests on foundational arguments that are based on world views, different issues, and different frames to communicate them.”

Yes, differing ‘world views’, or as Naomi Klein puts it in her book/movie “This Changes Everything”, differing ‘stories’, stories about what the world fundamentally is like. (Here I’m leaving out the important discussion of just what the competing stories are, but it is safe to say the predominant world view is one based on exploitation.)  Once put in this context, the approach to the problem and search for solutions to the threats of global warming (climate change) become different from  the facts/logic presented in Chapters 1 – 4:  less logical, more personal/cultural. But how to bring the cultural to the front of these kinds of discussions, up to the first chapters so to speak?  How to understand what changes in the personal/cultural must occur to address the threats of climate change?

Another quote which Dr. Chapman includes illustrates the nature of this challenge, from Clive Hamilton:

The success of climate denialism in its various guises reveals how shallow are the roots of the Enlightenment. . . . In the most vital test of our capacity to protect the future through the deployment of rationality and well-informed foresight, the “rational animal’ is manifestly failing. We see now that the forces unleashed by science and the commitment to a rational social order had entered into a contingent alliance only.

Here Mr Hamilton produces a flash of brilliant observation but that quote still lacks a discussion of the ways to address the cultural/personal source of world views. 1

Dr. Chapman can clearly see the problem when looking at the USA because, I would suggest, in its more flamboyant national personality, the Tea Party of outright ‘climate deniers’ -!shouts! –   shouts its fundamental reliance on an exploitative world view which sees the individual human at the centre of the universe, for many with each individual soul created by a monotheistic god father.

While the Tea Party in the USA shows one ‘guise’, to use Hamilton’s word, of denialism, we here in New Zealand must come to grips with the guise which is at work here. What Dr. Chapman sees in NZ is the threat of future authoritarian repression, ‘bolstered by the tools of mass surveillance’, at some point if and when the economy begins breaking down under the shock of ‘repeated climate events’ if there is not success in preventing climate disruption.  But what of today, with the form of climate denialism evident in the NZ electorate? Dr. Chapman does not address this question.

The NZ cultural personality is different from that of the USA. It is not so demonstrative. 2 In NZ, our guise of denialism can be described as “the fog of John Key.”  The National Government has made it clear they will do nothing significant about climate change and that is what a terrified NZ electorate wants to hear, evidencing its own guise of denialism.  This also, like the Tea Party in the USA, is evidence of the influence of the cultural/personal trumping the rational, including science.

Why does Dr Chapman, as do virtually all other commentators in NZ, avoid this discussion? Until we understand the fundamental influence of the cultural/personal as evidenced in our dominant world view (“story’), which like most cultures in the western world is an exploitative one, we are unlikely to make much progress in avoiding the march toward serious climate disruption.

Richard Keller 14/12/2015

  1. At least this quote goes some way to explain the chapter title, and Dr Chapman goes further in his explanation of that as well.
  2. Gordan McLauchlan has twice now written books about NZ (latest date 2012 – “The Passionless People – revisited” which describes NZ as a passionless society). The electoral popularity of the National Government today comes from who John Key is – ‘The perfectly passionless palliative Face kept saying it wanted to talk about serious things such as the economy and yet somehow never did.’ Fair enough, but why does that work so well today 36 years after his first book? Why has it gotten worse since, McLauchlan says, the 60s and 70s showed such promise?
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