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New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360

New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360.

24 MAR 2014: ANALYSIS

The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are especially vulnerable. But it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past.

by fred pearce

Batten down the hatches; fill the grain stores; raise the flood defenses. We cannot know exactly what is coming, but it will probably be nasty, the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn next week. Global warming will cause wars, displace millions of people, and do trillion-dollar damage to the global economy.

But careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more

IPCC cautious predictions

Rob Elliott/AFP/Getty Images
The draft IPCC report cites sea level rise and storm surges among eight “key risks.”

firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.

The study, the result of a five-year review of published papers, is from the IPCC’s scientists working on the impacts of climate change. It complements an IPCC study late last year on the planetary science and will be followed next month by another that will focus on what we should do about it.

A leak of the final draft prepared by scientists at the end of October 2013 is circulating. It is not the final version, which will be a summary for policymakers that will be released on March 31, though there is unlikely to be much change. And, since government delegates at international talks in Japan this week will scrutinize the final draft before signing off

Hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts have often proved wrong.

for publication, what we have is effectively “the scientists’ cut.”

Past impacts reports from the IPCC were based around attempts to produce detailed forecasts of local climate in future decades and somewhat mechanistic assessments of what this would mean for society. But the new report is much more wary, especially of putting numbers on likely changes. Many previously firm-sounding forecasts have disappeared since the last major IPCC climate-impacts report in 2007, such as spreading droughts and crop losses in Africa and more violent hurricanes in the Atlantic.

The reason for avoiding precise forecasts is twofold. First, overly precise predictions got the authors of the 2007 report into trouble. The most famous faux pas was the claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, when 2350 is a more likely date. But there were other unsubstantiated forecasts, such as that “projected reductions in [crop] yield in some countries [in Africa] could be as much as 50% by 2020” — a misinterpretation of a paper, which was not peer-reviewed, that looked at rain-fed agriculture in just three North African countries.

The hundreds of authors of the draft report have been silent for some time, following IPCC rules by refusing to discuss their draft with journalists. But their chairman, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, told me soon after taking on the job in 2009 that he recognized serious mistakes had been made last time and that he was “committed to sufficient checking and cross-checking to ensure a truly error-free product next time.”

Another reason for the more measured tone is that hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts than seven years ago have often proved wrong. For parts of the world, model forecasts of regional climate change are diverging rather than converging. The more we know, it seems, the less we know for sure.

Caution is the watchword. Take the treatment of Africa. Last time, the chapter on that continent began with a declaration that up to a quarter of a billion Africans “are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due

The draft report lays out eight ‘key risks,’ including sea level rise and storm surges that could affect hundreds of millions.

to climate change.” This time, the leaked draft states simply that while “a reduction in precipitation is likely over North Africa … projected rainfall change over sub-Saharan Africa is uncertain.”

The draft agrees that “climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability in Africa” and will “very likely” reduce cereal crop productivity. But this time the discussion is not about how big or small those reductions might be, but on how African farmers might cope with less water, through terracing and agroforestry for instance.

Asia has fallen into a similar forecasting limbo. Last time, the IPCC warned that there would be less water in most Asian river basins and up to a billion people could experience “increased water stress” as early as the 2020s. This time, “there is low confidence in future precipitation projections at a subregional level and thus in future freshwater availability in most parts of Asia.” Last time the IPCC predicted “an increase of 10 to 20% in tropical cyclone intensities” in Asia. This time it reports “low confidence in region-specific projections of [cyclone] frequency and intensity.”

Some certainties do remain. The leaked draft suggests growing agreement among climate modelers that Scandinavia and much of Canada will see more precipitation and that the southwestern U.S., southern Australia, the Middle East, southern Europe, and North Africa can expect more droughts and emptier rivers.

Southern Europe looks set to fry, with crops shriveling in the fields, reservoirs emptying, deserts spreading, tourists staying away, and demand for air conditioning going through the roof. Even its vineyards will suffer, though a reference in a March 2013 draft to Venice being “lost forever” beneath the waves has since been removed.

Globally, the draft report lays out eight “key risks”: sea level rise and storm surges in coastal areas that could affect “hundreds of millions… by 2100”; food insecurity for the poor from warming and drought; inland flooding of cities; loss of access to water for drinking and irrigation; breakdown of infrastructure due to extreme events; loss of fisheries, due to a “global redistribution of maximum catch potential”; loss of terrestrial ecosystems such as

The idea that climate change is of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world has been rooted out.

“forest dieback … in the next one to three decades”; and extreme heat, especially for the poor in cities.

But it asks us to be grown-up about the uncertainties involved in what plays out when. “Responding to climate-related risks involves making decisions and taking actions in the face of continuing uncertainty about the extent of climate change and the severity of impacts in a changing world,” the draft report says. Or as Field put it to journalists in 2010: “Most people spend their lives making decisions under uncertainty, and that’s what dealing effectively with climate change demands — the same kind of decisions you make when you decide to buckle your seatbelt.”

The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change.

Central to that new take is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems. What some call “climate exceptionalism” — the idea that climate change is something of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world — has been rooted out. Here climate change is painted as pervasive, since nobody can avoid it wholly, but as usually only one among many pressures, especially on the poor.

“Climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden to people living in poverty, acting as a threat multiplier,” it says. “Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.” Even for someone living on a sand spit in coastal Bangladesh, at constant risk of being washed away by rising tides and

On food security, the report is markedly more gloomy than the previous assessment in 2007.

superstorms, the country’s pervasive land inequality may be a bigger threat.

Thus climate will exacerbate and amplify pre-existing problems. The report notes how a drought in Australia in 2007 sent global food prices soaring in 2008. But it cannot answer whether we should blame climate change or a dysfunctional food system.

Food security is, nonetheless, one area where the report is markedly more gloomy that its immediate predecessor. The 2007 assessment argued that increases in crop yields in mid-latitudes could offset losses in hotter climates, at least for the next few decades. “Globally,” it said, “the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3 degrees C.” But that optimism has faded. The leaked draft forecasts that “local temperature increases of 1 degrees C or more… are projected to negatively impact yields.”

Average yields of major grains could fall by up to 2 percent a decade from here until the end of the century, it predicts. With demand for food crops likely to rise by 14 percent a decade, that sounds a daunting prospect — though it also suggests that climate change is only a small element in the emerging 21st century crisis over global food security.

Some nightmare scenarios are robustly defused. Past IPCC reports have warned that there might be as many as 50 million “climate refugees” around the world, who will flee drought, rising tides and spreading deserts. This report is set to dismiss that idea. “The current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather,” the draft

MORE FROM YALE e360

Has the U.N. Climate Panel
Now Outlived Its Usefulness?

sea level rise

Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
READ MORE

says. “Predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.” It also points out that migration is a good “coping strategy,” often to be encouraged rather than feared.

The report may irritate politicians in poor countries who look to blame climate change caused by the rich world for the ills of their people and want to demand reparations. But it may also dismay those who want to cite other factors to “prove” that climate change is never to blame. The world is more complicated, the scientists who prepared the draft conclude. The lesson of their report is that climate change will be implicated in a vast array of global ills, but it will rarely be the sole cause.

Climate change skeptics may want to characterize the report as debunking what they regard as the scaremongering of past reports. They may latch onto statements such as that “for most economic sectors,” factors such as changing demography, technology, lifestyles, and governance “will be large relative to the impacts of climate change.” And the report is, on the face of it, more optimistic than the famous review of the economics of climate change by Britain’s Nicholas Stern in 2006.

Stern put the likely cost to the global economy of warming this century at 5-20 percent of GDP. The new IPCC draft says that a global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels may lead to a global loss of income of between 0.2 and 2 percent.

But if Americans think this puts them in a good position, they are wrong. While the report is silent on whether there might be more or stronger hurricanes hitting North America from the Atlantic (and “Katrina aside,” saw no trend in U.S. hurricane deaths since 1970), it states that “much of North American infrastructure is currently vulnerable to extreme weather events.”

The message is clear. We may not be able to make hard and fast predictions, but prudency requires that we prepare for the worst.

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

“Just one source, methane from the arctic…leads us [by 2030] to…a temperature beyond which humans have never existed on the planet.” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of University of Arizona in Environmental Studies, shares highlights from his compilation of recent reports on climate change effects. Their number and extent have grown exponentially since he began five years ago. In this interview, he shares his personal journey through despair and deep grief to recent acceptance. “I suspect we get to see the end of this movie… Nobody else in human history [has]… We get to see how humans act in the face of their own demise.” Episode 262. [guymcpherson.com] Watch Guy’s Climate Change presentation February 2014

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

“Just one source, methane from the arctic…leads us [by 2030] to…a temperature beyond which humans have never existed on the planet.” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of University of Arizona in Environmental Studies, shares highlights from his compilation of recent reports on climate change effects. Their number and extent have grown exponentially since he began five years ago. In this interview, he shares his personal journey through despair and deep grief to recent acceptance. “I suspect we get to see the end of this movie… Nobody else in human history [has]… We get to see how humans act in the face of their own demise.” Episode 262. [guymcpherson.com] Watch Guy’s Climate Change presentation February 2014

The Peak Oil Crisis: Our Harsh Winter Continues

The Peak Oil Crisis: Our Harsh Winter Continues.

MARCH 19, 2014 7:15 PM
By Tom WhippleTwo weeks ago we discussed the impact that the polar vortex was having on our natural gas supplies and noted that our stocks of natural gas were already 500 billion cubic feet below where they should be for this time of year. Two weeks ago the forecasters were optimistic that the record winter of 2013-2014 was over and that things would soon be warming up.

It turned out however that the forecasts were wrong and yet more frigid weather poured down across the U.S., drawing down our stocks of natural gas and heating oil still further and interrupting the drilling and fracking of new shale gas and shale oil wells. New forecasts say that the abnormally cold weather is likely to continue through the rest of March and on into early April.

We won’t have the final figures on how much natural gas was drawn from our stocks this winter for another month, but it is starting to look as if our stocks, which normally range from a high of 3.8 trillion cubic feet to a low of 1.8 trillion, could fall to as low as 750 billion and that the total drawdown this winter will be close to 3 trillion cubic feet as compared to the normal 2 trillion. Since November the U.S. has been consuming an average of 91 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day which is 13 percent higher than the five-year average for this time of year.

The key question is whether this can be replaced in time for the next heating season or the ones after that.

In addition to increasing our consumption, the cold weather has also slowed our domestic production of natural gas. Our natural gas imports from Canada, about 7 billion cubic feet per day, are down about 10 percent from last year. It is even colder in Canada and they need their gas to keep warm before exporting any surplus to the U.S.

You will recall that our shale gas wells, which now supply about 40 percent of our total natural gas consumption, deplete very quickly so that many new wells need to be drilled and fracked each year just to keep production level. There are very few conventional gas wells being drilled these days and production of shale gas other than from the Marcellus shale in the Appalachians is nearly flat. The rapid pace our gas wells are depleting means that the U.S. now needs about 19 billion cubic feet per day of new gas production just to keep up with our annual average consumption of 71 billion cubic feet per day.

As a goodly share of this 19 billion cubic feet per day of new natural gas production must come from the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it should be apparent that this location is not conducive to drilling and fracking during the cold and snowy winter months. A recent weekly EIA report shows natural gas production in the eastern U.S down by 30 percent from last year.

Last week the Department of Energy issued a report discussing how we are going to overcome this trillion cubic foot deficit in our natural gas stockpiles before the beginning of next November’s withdrawal season. The Department starts with the assumption that the drawdown is not going to be as bad as it currently seems and then posits that if everything goes right – higher production and lower consumption – we might be able to inject a record 2.5 trillion cubic feet into our storage caverns this summer. Even this will leave us about 500 billion cubic feet below where we would like to be next fall.

Natural gas consumption during the next seven months is problematic. If temperatures are unusually high, a lot of natural gas will go into electric power stations to keep us cool. If it is a cool summer, then we might have considerable surpluses that could be injected into our storage caverns. The relatively low price of natural gas, currently about $4.50 per million BTU’s, is another problem.

Some independent analysts say this is well below what it costs to produce shale gas these days and that producers are solvent only because they are making an effort to produce “wet” gas that contains valuable natural gas liquids such as propane which can be sold for enough to offset the loss on the “dry” gas which is what keeps us warm. Gas coming from the Marcellus shale, mostly in Pennsylvania, is generally dry so that there is a good chance that many producers are simply losing money on their natural gas production while waiting for higher prices that will allow profitability.

Looking ahead for the next few years, questions are starting to arise about the long-term sustainability of our natural gas production. This winter will leave us with a major deficit in our stockpiles which unless the weather cooperates is not likely to be made up in the immediate future. Unusually hot summers or cold winters will make rebuilding of inventories difficult or even impossible.

Thanks to the hype about the 100 years-worth of natural gas we are supposed to have in reserve, everybody seems to have an idea as to how to use this bonanza more quickly. Some want to send LNG to Europe so it can reduce reliance on Russian gas. This of course requires liquefaction facilities to make LNG that can’t become operational for many years. Our imports from Canada are shrinking. Our exports via pipeline to Mexico are increasing. Many want to convert our fleet of 18-wheelers to natural gas. The EPA wants to replace the dirtiest of our coal burning power plants with natural gas and there are those who believe that nuclear power plants are too dangerous to keep around.

If even some of these additional uses come to fruition before the end of the decade, our natural gas could become very expensive and even scarce.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we'd have it sorted by now. | Transition Network

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now.

Has the climate debate stalled? Does extreme weather in the UK mean we’re talking about it more or less? When’s a good time to try to make the connections between climate change and floods? And is there anything Inner Transition has to offer to the questions about how and when to have these conversations?

Yesterday the Inner Transition group in Totnes ran a public event called “Weathering Change – a chance to talk about the weather”. We planned the event back in January just as the gales were starting to blow which took out the railway line by the coast, and the lashing rain was starting to build the large sea which still lies over the Somerset Levels. [This picture (left, below) was taken from the train, showing the Levels now more like a sea.]

Somerset Levels

As the floods and disruption worsened many people I talked to seemed really enthusiastic about the event – and I started to worry about numbers – what to do if forty people come? We offered guidelines for hosting a conversation to the local Transition Streets groups, imagining it might be a conversation others would want to have.

In fact just 8 people turned up, most already involved with Inner Transition. We had a rich and deeply connecting evening talking about how the weather has impacted us practically as well as at a feeling level. As has happened for me before, hearing others and having a space outside my daily life to be heard, enabled me to reach a deeper sense of how much feeling the changing weather brings up.

We also spoke about how we manage our responses in order to go on living. I could let myself feel how much anger I have at the destructive behaviour of our politicians and business “leaders” that I just don’t get in touch with – if I let all the anger through and tried to act on it I would burn out really fast. We acknowledged that we also live in a state of denial some of the time, carrying our lives on as usual.

happinessLast week I was invited to be part of the conversations at a conference called “Breaking the Deadlock: why the climate debate has stalled”. It brought together academics and researchers, “practitioners” – those involved on the ground of public engagement around climate change, and a couple of people involved in energy policy from the UK and Scottish governments. The aim of the conference was to look at whether “psychosocial approaches” can help move the debate on, starting with the interesting question of what kind of thing a human being is.

Underneath most ideas about our world are implicit assumptions about what humans are like and how we behave – and they often reflect our own inaccurate self perception. Two common misperceptions I’ve come across:

In classical economics humans are assumed to be totally rational, so that when they have full knowledge of a (supposedly perfect and fair) marketplace they will make rational choices. While the economic theory relies on this corporations and advertisers make good use of the fact that people are much more swayed by their emotions, identity, aspirations and aversions, and use this effectively to sell us stuff.

The second example is in movements for change which assume that once people get information they will take action based on a rational analysis of that information. “If I show you a film about peak oil or climate change you’ll join Transition to do something about the problem.” Many people who pioneer Transition may well be like this – when I heard about peak oil put together with climate change I changed the direction of my life. But I can see that for most people this isn’t how it works – there’s a long inner process between hearing information that can be shocking and overwhelming, making sense of it, and coming to some new way of acting in the world.

Here is one person’s definition of a psycho-social approach, and the insights it provides about how humans really work:

  • Our inner worlds are powerfully determined by emotions and the need to manage them, including defending against things which feel overwhelming.
  • We construct our inner world and understand the outer world through narratives and stories.
  • Humans are inconsistent and contradictory rather than rational and consistent.
  • Our sense of self and our behaviour is largely influenced by our social context and its norms, frames and values.

It was great to meet up with other “practitioner” organisations, including the Climate Psychology Alliance,Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN, who are developing an event to help places affected by flooding talk about what’s happened and link it to Climate Change) and Carbon Conversations.

Carbon Conversations designed an in depth process supported by a trained facilitator and workbook to give information and explore responses to Climate Change in facilitated small groups. Thousands have been through the process, and after the small number who came to the Weathering Change event I wonder whether we really need a smaller trusted group to open this emotional territory.

I read an article by Carbon Conversations founder Ro Randall several years ago, which described its focus on the process of loss, to help people work through the “Tasks of Mourning” as defined by psychologist J Worden from his model of loss. These include

  • acknowledging the reality of the loss,
  • working through grief,
  • creating a new identity in the changed circumstances,
  • and redirecting the energy of the old attachment to new relationships.

Looking at my own process I can see that the third task alone involved changing my work, living in a different place, starting a new relationship, renegotiating all my friendships – some of which I’ve lost as well as new ones I’ve found – and learning totally new skills like growing organic veg. All of this happened without a single gram of carbon being saved. It took a lot of time and internal energy. But it’s the foundation for all the changes in the way that I now live.

At the conference I could feel my disappointment that those working with limited models sometimes think that their way is the best. I’ve found that any model you use shows you a different facet of the whole picture. If we focus on loss and grief we may forget that actually the system we’re losing is in many ways more like a self destructive addiction than a beloved friend. Yes it’s supported life for many countries and many people, but only through huge destruction of our natural world, of many other cultures, and the creation of huge inequality. So an addiction lens helps us to see something else – that the end of the industrial growth system potentially has huge benefits if we can find a different system that’s rooted in something more healthy.

I found it really helpful that one of the key speakers at the conference gave us a much more complete overview of ways of understanding and taking action in the world. [It looked to me very like Wilber’s four quadrants, which I’ve also used to help teach a complete and integrated understanding of healthy and destructive human systems.] The four quadrants can roughly be defined as inner / outer and individual / collective. Here’s an abbreviated version of the model:

The Quadrant Approach To Engagement (Renee Lertzman, PhD)

Emotional experience

Feelings, construction of meaning, defence mechanisms, denial, narrative, empathy, dialogue, motivational interviewing

Activities: conversation / support groups, qualitative research, workshops, leadership development, arts

Behavioural

Movitiations, reasoning, probabilities, levers and drivers, cognitive processes, rationality, triggers, shift, switch, incentives, proactive change, quantitative research

Activities; Behaviour change programmes, energy efficiency, utlitities, transport (incentives / taxes), employee engagement

Socio-cultural –

World views, ethics, ideologies, beliefs, messaging, frames and values based engagement

Activities: faith based programmes, public opinion polls

Contexts: marketing, political messaging, policy segmentation,

Systems

Collaboration, design, social practices, systems thinking, resilience, infrastructure, solutions focus

Social innovation projects, pu blic / private partnerships, community based projects, participatory design, piloting

Activities; Resource issues (regional / watershed),

Renee, who brought this model suggested that these different modes of engagement tend to operate only within their own set of systems which then limits and weakens their practice, since the reality is that humans are operating in all four quadrants all the time. This strongly reflects what I’ve seen particularly in the two major movements for positive change that I’ve been involved with. In the personal growth movement the focus starts with personal inner experience – “The change starts with what’s inside me, to make positive change in the world I need to heal myself first”. Political and environmental change movements take the opposite view: “We can only act within the systems around us – the systems need to change before people can change”

switchesFor me this is a classic case of the need for “both / and” – arguments about which of these is more true are a waste of time. I think it’s part of the rare potential of Transition (some have told me that for them it’s a defining distinction which makes Transition worth giving time to) is that we attempt – despite difficulties – to include both ways of creating change.

Here’s why this inclusive approach is important. People who only see the personal inner quadrant can get stuck in their personal journey. Is it helpful that there are people with great inner peace and even accessing states of enlightenment if their personal practice includes unsustainable consumption of carbon through flying to workshops or particular diets? Surely at some point there has to be a connection between our inner practice and the needs of our community and the ecological systems that support life, or we’re living our own individual version of separation and denial.

And on the other hand, many social and political movements have ended up either burnt out, or split apart by conflict because they didn’t have the inner insights and process skills to deal with their own their unconscious process – which will naturally include unhealthy dynamics around power and privilege which permeate all of us however deep our aspiration to cooperation or equality.

So the strongest and most lasting movements will be those which truly practise inclusivity – by rising to challenge of understanding the different worldviews and language of those who focus on other quadrants, and who can truly embody the quality of peace and resilience that comes from valuing diversity.

A final word about Happiness!

A nice coincidence is that today, Thursday 20th March is International Happiness day. I’m not sure if the timing is deliberate, but on this day you can listen for free to a discussion between Hilary Prentice – who first dreamt up Inner Transition in Totnes – discussing exactly question. Starting from the perspective of why self awareness and inner disciplines are invaluable for activists – but I imagine also acknowledging that the bridge needs to go both ways.

My final meeting in London was with Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness, part of a growing movement that aims to make Happiness a political priority, the thing governments should focus on growing rather than our material or financial economy. I’m planning to write more about this, but the work that underpins the Happiness movement is key to Transition because it explains how it is possible to create energy descent – a steady, major reduction in our use of energy and resources – while creating a better way of living.

The key to this lies once again in understanding what a human being really is and what makes us happy. Increasing evidence shows that this does not come from material possessions or consumption beyond having our basic subsistence needs met – but rather from things like having happy, close, loving relationships, meaningful and connected work, and knowing that those around us are also in a state of well being.

Have a happy day of happiness!!

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now.

Has the climate debate stalled? Does extreme weather in the UK mean we’re talking about it more or less? When’s a good time to try to make the connections between climate change and floods? And is there anything Inner Transition has to offer to the questions about how and when to have these conversations?

Yesterday the Inner Transition group in Totnes ran a public event called “Weathering Change – a chance to talk about the weather”. We planned the event back in January just as the gales were starting to blow which took out the railway line by the coast, and the lashing rain was starting to build the large sea which still lies over the Somerset Levels. [This picture (left, below) was taken from the train, showing the Levels now more like a sea.]

Somerset Levels

As the floods and disruption worsened many people I talked to seemed really enthusiastic about the event – and I started to worry about numbers – what to do if forty people come? We offered guidelines for hosting a conversation to the local Transition Streets groups, imagining it might be a conversation others would want to have.

In fact just 8 people turned up, most already involved with Inner Transition. We had a rich and deeply connecting evening talking about how the weather has impacted us practically as well as at a feeling level. As has happened for me before, hearing others and having a space outside my daily life to be heard, enabled me to reach a deeper sense of how much feeling the changing weather brings up.

We also spoke about how we manage our responses in order to go on living. I could let myself feel how much anger I have at the destructive behaviour of our politicians and business “leaders” that I just don’t get in touch with – if I let all the anger through and tried to act on it I would burn out really fast. We acknowledged that we also live in a state of denial some of the time, carrying our lives on as usual.

happinessLast week I was invited to be part of the conversations at a conference called “Breaking the Deadlock: why the climate debate has stalled”. It brought together academics and researchers, “practitioners” – those involved on the ground of public engagement around climate change, and a couple of people involved in energy policy from the UK and Scottish governments. The aim of the conference was to look at whether “psychosocial approaches” can help move the debate on, starting with the interesting question of what kind of thing a human being is.

Underneath most ideas about our world are implicit assumptions about what humans are like and how we behave – and they often reflect our own inaccurate self perception. Two common misperceptions I’ve come across:

In classical economics humans are assumed to be totally rational, so that when they have full knowledge of a (supposedly perfect and fair) marketplace they will make rational choices. While the economic theory relies on this corporations and advertisers make good use of the fact that people are much more swayed by their emotions, identity, aspirations and aversions, and use this effectively to sell us stuff.

The second example is in movements for change which assume that once people get information they will take action based on a rational analysis of that information. “If I show you a film about peak oil or climate change you’ll join Transition to do something about the problem.” Many people who pioneer Transition may well be like this – when I heard about peak oil put together with climate change I changed the direction of my life. But I can see that for most people this isn’t how it works – there’s a long inner process between hearing information that can be shocking and overwhelming, making sense of it, and coming to some new way of acting in the world.

Here is one person’s definition of a psycho-social approach, and the insights it provides about how humans really work:

  • Our inner worlds are powerfully determined by emotions and the need to manage them, including defending against things which feel overwhelming.
  • We construct our inner world and understand the outer world through narratives and stories.
  • Humans are inconsistent and contradictory rather than rational and consistent.
  • Our sense of self and our behaviour is largely influenced by our social context and its norms, frames and values.

It was great to meet up with other “practitioner” organisations, including the Climate Psychology Alliance,Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN, who are developing an event to help places affected by flooding talk about what’s happened and link it to Climate Change) and Carbon Conversations.

Carbon Conversations designed an in depth process supported by a trained facilitator and workbook to give information and explore responses to Climate Change in facilitated small groups. Thousands have been through the process, and after the small number who came to the Weathering Change event I wonder whether we really need a smaller trusted group to open this emotional territory.

I read an article by Carbon Conversations founder Ro Randall several years ago, which described its focus on the process of loss, to help people work through the “Tasks of Mourning” as defined by psychologist J Worden from his model of loss. These include

  • acknowledging the reality of the loss,
  • working through grief,
  • creating a new identity in the changed circumstances,
  • and redirecting the energy of the old attachment to new relationships.

Looking at my own process I can see that the third task alone involved changing my work, living in a different place, starting a new relationship, renegotiating all my friendships – some of which I’ve lost as well as new ones I’ve found – and learning totally new skills like growing organic veg. All of this happened without a single gram of carbon being saved. It took a lot of time and internal energy. But it’s the foundation for all the changes in the way that I now live.

At the conference I could feel my disappointment that those working with limited models sometimes think that their way is the best. I’ve found that any model you use shows you a different facet of the whole picture. If we focus on loss and grief we may forget that actually the system we’re losing is in many ways more like a self destructive addiction than a beloved friend. Yes it’s supported life for many countries and many people, but only through huge destruction of our natural world, of many other cultures, and the creation of huge inequality. So an addiction lens helps us to see something else – that the end of the industrial growth system potentially has huge benefits if we can find a different system that’s rooted in something more healthy.

I found it really helpful that one of the key speakers at the conference gave us a much more complete overview of ways of understanding and taking action in the world. [It looked to me very like Wilber’s four quadrants, which I’ve also used to help teach a complete and integrated understanding of healthy and destructive human systems.] The four quadrants can roughly be defined as inner / outer and individual / collective. Here’s an abbreviated version of the model:

The Quadrant Approach To Engagement (Renee Lertzman, PhD)

Emotional experience

Feelings, construction of meaning, defence mechanisms, denial, narrative, empathy, dialogue, motivational interviewing

Activities: conversation / support groups, qualitative research, workshops, leadership development, arts

Behavioural

Movitiations, reasoning, probabilities, levers and drivers, cognitive processes, rationality, triggers, shift, switch, incentives, proactive change, quantitative research

Activities; Behaviour change programmes, energy efficiency, utlitities, transport (incentives / taxes), employee engagement

Socio-cultural –

World views, ethics, ideologies, beliefs, messaging, frames and values based engagement

Activities: faith based programmes, public opinion polls

Contexts: marketing, political messaging, policy segmentation,

Systems

Collaboration, design, social practices, systems thinking, resilience, infrastructure, solutions focus

Social innovation projects, pu blic / private partnerships, community based projects, participatory design, piloting

Activities; Resource issues (regional / watershed),

Renee, who brought this model suggested that these different modes of engagement tend to operate only within their own set of systems which then limits and weakens their practice, since the reality is that humans are operating in all four quadrants all the time. This strongly reflects what I’ve seen particularly in the two major movements for positive change that I’ve been involved with. In the personal growth movement the focus starts with personal inner experience – “The change starts with what’s inside me, to make positive change in the world I need to heal myself first”. Political and environmental change movements take the opposite view: “We can only act within the systems around us – the systems need to change before people can change”

switchesFor me this is a classic case of the need for “both / and” – arguments about which of these is more true are a waste of time. I think it’s part of the rare potential of Transition (some have told me that for them it’s a defining distinction which makes Transition worth giving time to) is that we attempt – despite difficulties – to include both ways of creating change.

Here’s why this inclusive approach is important. People who only see the personal inner quadrant can get stuck in their personal journey. Is it helpful that there are people with great inner peace and even accessing states of enlightenment if their personal practice includes unsustainable consumption of carbon through flying to workshops or particular diets? Surely at some point there has to be a connection between our inner practice and the needs of our community and the ecological systems that support life, or we’re living our own individual version of separation and denial.

And on the other hand, many social and political movements have ended up either burnt out, or split apart by conflict because they didn’t have the inner insights and process skills to deal with their own their unconscious process – which will naturally include unhealthy dynamics around power and privilege which permeate all of us however deep our aspiration to cooperation or equality.

So the strongest and most lasting movements will be those which truly practise inclusivity – by rising to challenge of understanding the different worldviews and language of those who focus on other quadrants, and who can truly embody the quality of peace and resilience that comes from valuing diversity.

A final word about Happiness!

A nice coincidence is that today, Thursday 20th March is International Happiness day. I’m not sure if the timing is deliberate, but on this day you can listen for free to a discussion between Hilary Prentice – who first dreamt up Inner Transition in Totnes – discussing exactly question. Starting from the perspective of why self awareness and inner disciplines are invaluable for activists – but I imagine also acknowledging that the bridge needs to go both ways.

My final meeting in London was with Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness, part of a growing movement that aims to make Happiness a political priority, the thing governments should focus on growing rather than our material or financial economy. I’m planning to write more about this, but the work that underpins the Happiness movement is key to Transition because it explains how it is possible to create energy descent – a steady, major reduction in our use of energy and resources – while creating a better way of living.

The key to this lies once again in understanding what a human being really is and what makes us happy. Increasing evidence shows that this does not come from material possessions or consumption beyond having our basic subsistence needs met – but rather from things like having happy, close, loving relationships, meaningful and connected work, and knowing that those around us are also in a state of well being.

Have a happy day of happiness!!

Study: 2ºC Warming Is Enough To Seriously Hurt Crop Yields

Study: 2ºC Warming Is Enough To Seriously Hurt Crop Yields.

by Ari Phillips, originally published by Climate Progress  | TODAY

 shutterstock_154305545

As farmers sow this year’s crops, they may be distracted by the fact that by the 2030s — just over 15 years from now — crop yields in temperate and tropical regions will suffer significantly due to climate change.
Published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, a paper found that without adaptation, losses in wheat, rice, and maize production can be expected with just 2°C of warming. The study will sharpen the already-alarming findings of the Working Group II section of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, to be published at the end of March. Working Group II focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts climate change will have and what level of vulnerability different ecological and socio-economic sectors will be subject to.
The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report, in 2007, found that regions with temperate climates like Europe and North America would hold up to a couple degrees of warming without a discernible effect on crop yields. Some studies even thought the increase in temperatures could boost production. However the new study, which pulled from the largest dataset to date on crop resources — more than double the number available in 2007 — found that crops will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected.
“As more data have become available, we’ve seen a shift in consensus, telling us that the impacts of climate change in temperate regions will happen sooner rather than later,” Professor Andy Challinor, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place –- with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic. Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years.”
According to the study, starting in the 2030s crop yields will experience an increasingly negative impact with decreases of over 25 percent becoming more common by the second half of the century. Climate change is already of high concern to those working in agriculture as changes in weather, land quality, and water availability reflect across the sector. Food prices for staple crops such as wheat and corn are high this year as global productionstruggles to keep pace with rising demand. Crop prices are subject to very localized impacts, and the crisis in Ukraine has caused corn and wheat prices to spike as the country is a top-ten exporter of both crops. Climate change will only act to amplify the precarious nature of the industry.
Another recent study found that climate change’s average effect on crop prices by 2050 will be a 20 percent increase, with some prices not changing at all while others rise over 60 percent depending on the region.
In California, where a record-breaking drought is an indicator of the hotter, drier norms that climate change is bringing to the region, nearly 500,000 acres of cropland — about 12 percent of last year’s acreage — could be cut back this year, causing billions of dollars of economic damage. Prices of vegetables like artichokes, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower could rise as much as 10 percent.
California produces around 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with production more than doubling from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion last year. With global demand booming for almonds, especially in Asia, the California drought is likely to have a negative impact on prices of almonds around the world. While almond trees are not ideal for California’s already-dry climate and require significant irrigation, the industry has taken root and will be forced to adapt to whatever growing conditions the future holds.
Dry wheat image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

Michael Jacobs points to grounds for optimism that a comprehensive emissions-reduction plan can be agreed this year. – Project Syndicate

Michael Jacobs points to grounds for optimism that a comprehensive emissions-reduction plan can be agreed this year. – Project Syndicate.

MAR 7, 2014 1

The Climate-Change Agenda Heats Up

LONDON – For many people around the world this year, the weather has become anything but a topic for small talk. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, America’s record-breaking freeze, California’s year-long drought, and flooding in Europe have put the long-term dangers of climate change back on the political agenda. In response, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent an urgent letter to government, business, civil society, and finance leaders, urging them to attend a special Climate Summit in New York in September.

The event will be the first time that world leaders have met to discuss global warming since the UN’s fateful Copenhagen climate-change summit in 2009. Amid high expectations – and subsequent recriminations – that meeting failed to achieve a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. So, at September’s summit, leaders will be asked to re-boot the diplomatic process. The goal is a new agreement in 2015 to prevent average global temperatures from rising by two degrees Celsius, the level that the international community has deemed “dangerous” to human society.

At first sight, that looks like a hard task. Since Copenhagen, climate change has slipped down the global agenda, as the restoration of economic growth, voter concern about jobs and living standards, and violent conflict in key trouble spots have taken precedence.

But the tide may be turning. More people are grasping the true extent of the dangers ahead. In its latest authoritative assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded last year that scientists are now 95% certain that human activities are the principal cause of rising temperatures. Over the next two months the IPCC will release further reports detailing the human and economic impacts of probable climate change and the costs and benefits of combating it. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently described climate change as “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” warning of “a tipping-point of no return.” Few serious commentators now dispute the science.

So the key question now is how the world’s leaders will respond. There are grounds for cautious optimism.

First, New York will not be like Copenhagen. Leaders are not being asked to negotiate a new agreement themselves; that job will remain with their professional negotiators and environment ministers. Moreover, the process will not be concluded this year but at the UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015. That provides plenty of time to translate political commitments made in New York into a legally-binding accord.

Second, the world’s two largest greenhouse-gas emitters, the United States and China, are now more committed to action than they were five years ago. US President Barack Obama has announced a far-reaching plan that authorizes the Environment Protection Agency to take dramatic measures in the next few months to limit power-station emissions, virtually ending coal-fired electricity generation altogether.

In China, worsening air pollution and growing concerns about energy security have led the government to consider a cap on coal use and an absolute reduction in emissions within the next 10-15 years. The government is experimenting with carbon pricing, and investing heavily in low-carbon wind, solar, and nuclear energy.

Further, the two countries are actively cooperating. Last year Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to phase out hydrofluorcarbons, a potent greenhouse gas. In February, they announced their intention to work together on climate policy – a marked contrast to Sino-US tensions over Pacific security and trade issues. With the European Union also preparing to commit to new 2030 climate targets, hopes for a global deal are rising.

A third cause for optimism is the re-appraisal of climate-change economics. Five years ago, policies aimed at cutting greenhouse-gas emissions were seen as a cost burden on the economy. Negotiations were therefore a zero-sum game, with countries seeking to minimize their obligations while asking others to do more.

However, new evidence may be altering the economic calculus. According to research conducted by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, far from hurting the economy, well-designed climate policy may actually boost growth. Chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and comprising former prime ministers, presidents, and finance ministers, the Commission is analyzing how investments in clean-energy infrastructure, agricultural productivity, and urban transport could stimulate sluggish economies. Its conclusions will be presented at September’s summit; if accepted, the Commission’s work could mark a turning point, transforming the way in which climate policy is perceived by the world’s economic policymakers.

None of this guarantees success. Powerful vested interests – not least the world’s fossil-fuel industries – will no doubt seek to limit progress, and most governments are not yet focused on the problem. But one thing is certain: the reality of climate change is making it impossible to ignore.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/michael-jacobs-points-to-grounds-for-optimism-that-a-comprehensive-emissions-reduction-plan-can-be-agreed-this-year#wHVjLcSRmu8rQqB0.99

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity’s Test

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity’s Test.

Posted on February 28, 2014 by rboyd

 This is another of my draft chapters from the book, “Schizophrenic Society”, that I am working on. Please feel free to provide editorial feedback.

Since the advent of the printing press and general literacy, media organizations have constructed parallel realities for the general populace. Radio and silent films, followed by “talking pictures” and television went further by creating artificial worlds that can be seen and heard in the same way that the real world is perceived. The human mind  evolved in an environment with no access to such artificial worlds and thus even though a person may know that these worlds are not real their brain will in many ways treat such worlds as if they were. For example, a 1938 radio program in the United States depicting an alien invasion lead many to believe that there really was such an invasion taking place1.

Many psychologists have noticed the similarities between the mental state of dreaming and that of watching television or a movie2. Such a mental state bypasses some of the conscious mechanisms that people utilize to judge between reality and artificial representations, thus making them more susceptible to internalizing media output as if it were real. There have been many documented cases where the media has been shown to affect social reality, from the media emphasis on below-average sized women3 to the extensive usage of violence4 and the objectification of women5. Gerrig6 proposes that there is in fact no clean delineation in a person’s mind between the real and the artificial, with social reality being a combined construct of real world and media experiences.

Thus, media output acts in the same way as the images created by the mind of a hallucinating individual. Not being able to distinguish between the real and the imagined, the individual integrates the two into his conception of reality. The advent of computer games, with the individual transformed into an active participant within the game, only intensifies the challenges to the brain’s ability to assess what is truly real and what is only an artificial illusion. In many cases gamers even prefer their artificial existence to their real one. The same has been noted of participants in the Second Life artificial world.

As societies have grown in size and complexity, and the “local” has become highly integrated with other geographical areas, the individual has become more and more reliant upon the media to provide the information and conceptual structures with which to make sense of the larger world. This reality was captured vividly by Walter Lippman, “Inevitably our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.”7 Thus individuals rely upon the predominant media sources, such as television and film, to both inform them of events and general cultural trends, and help them construct the conceptual frameworks required to understand their meaning and importance. As Lippman noted, “The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event”7, and that mental image is heavily dependent upon the medias depiction of it.

With the power to directly affect the social reality through which individuals make sense of the world, and to decide what events and issues individuals should be made aware of, the media is a central force in the creation of the ruling societal discourse. In a fully working democracy one would expect extensive regulations and oversight to make sure that a great diversity of groups have fair access to media outlets and that such outlets represent a diversity of opinions. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the media industry has become dominated by large private corporations funded by advertising revenue, together with government-funded organizations. Thus, unlike an individual’s hallucinations, the media-created hallucinations are consciously produced predominantly for material gain, or under political constraints.

As Herman and Chomsky have pointed out8, with the advertising revenue model media groups become vehicles to sell things to consumers, rather than the independent purveyors of information about the wider world. Anything that gets in the way of ongoing consumption, and thus the success of advertisements focused on increasing that consumption, will reduce the attractiveness of individual media organizations to the corporations paying for the advertisements. The issues of Climate Change, Peak Resources, and Ecological Degradation are certainly not ones that serve to increase an  individual’s consumption habits. In addition, a greater awareness and understanding of such things could lead to political action to force changes directly upon corporations. If media organizations started to focus heavily on such matters they would be “biting the hand that feeds them”, and thus a high degree of self-censorship would be expected. In many cases advertisers are also directly involved in the process of selecting and developing programs (hence the term “soap operas” which were at first funded by soap companies), allowing them to filter out any “problematic” subjects and themes.

Private media organizations may also be constrained by the need to maintain government licenses, and access for their staff to government officials. In addition, such groups may also want to keep good relationships with the government as they work to reduce regulatory restrictions and grow through mergers and acquisitions that require government approval. Government departments may also offer beneficial support through access to knowledgeable staff and expensive resources for media productions that further their aims. For example, the military have given significant support to television program, film, and even computer game productions that show them in a positive light9,10,11. They can also severely constrain what they see as “bad” reporting, as shown by the embedded journalist program during the Iraqi war, which was designed to eradicate the extensive negative journalism (from the U.S. government’s point of view) seen during the Vietnam war.

With the purchase of media organizations by non-media companies, such as General Electric, and Sony, there is also the increasing problem of not wanting to negatively effect other parts of the conglomerate. In the case of G.E., that may include staying away from contentious stories on nuclear power, the efficacy of mammogram machines, military spending, and foreign arms sales. As media organizations have been allowed to consolidate into massive global corporations focused on growing revenue and profits they also become part of the wealthy and powerful elites. Too much focus on the shortcomings of the economic and social system within which they have flourished, and too heavy a positive coverage of alternatives, would be threatening to their own future prospects.

Overall, the media groups that create our shared hallucinations will tend to be very conservative, protecting the economic and social environment within which they have thrived. This will be reinforced by both the corporations who pay for advertising space and governmental organizations. As humanity’s destruction of the environment continues apace, and becomes more and more visible, these media groups could be expected to work harder to protect the status quo and ignore or downplay inconvenient facts and occurrences. In this light, reductions in staffing and coverage of climate change by media organizations, while the impacts and science become more irrefutable, could be seen as quite logical actions.

In 2013 the TV evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC in the United States covered climate change for a joint one hour and forty two minutes, an improvement over 2012 but still below the 2009 level12. Media groups have also tended to report on weather events as stand-alone occurrences without mentioning climate change13,14. A number of media groups have also significantly reduced the number of journalists covering environmental issues in recent years15,16,17. In addition, a false sense of balance has been used to give climate deniers much more airtime than their representation with the scientific community, less than 5%, would warrant18,19,20, and one news agency has even appointed a “climate skeptic” as its managing editor21. Coverage of climate issues has also predominantly relied upon the use of politicians and social scientists, rather than providing an avenue for scientists to communicate their concerns and findings directly to the public.

The fundamental problem with issues such as Climate Change and Ecological Degradation is that they stem from a core problem, the exponential growth of human demands upon the earth, and thus the only solution is an end to that growth. With the industrialized human societies having spent the past two centuries developing a tight fit to the exponential growth facilitated by fossil fuels, an end to that growth will require wrenching changes to how those societies are structured and operate. Such changes, while producing great concern to the general populace, will be extremely threatening to those that have succeeded under the current societal arrangements. These are the rich and powerful that have most control over media organizations, as well as other determinants of social reality such as the school system and the workplace. To help affect the creation of social reality in their favor, they have created many so-called “independent” think-tanks, and hired public relations groups, to help create a perception of uncertainty on subjects such as climate change and to gain more access for skeptics to the media22,23.

Just as it may have made sense for the Mayan elites to call for more sacrifices to forestall their societies downfall, rather than accept the reality in front of them, it may make sense for the current elites to call for the magic of the “invisible hand” of economics and the wonders of human technology, rather than accept the current reality that so threatens their own wealth and privileges. The longer they practice such conscious ignorance, the more they stand to be accused and attacked, the more such ignorance will be seen as beneficial. Once the media spell is broken, and the duplicity of the elites understood, the wrath of the general populace may be truly horrific. The search for others to “pin the blame on”, and ongoing extensions to the means to monitor and control society, are completely rational actions in this context. If even the members of the police and armed forces come to blame the elites for not taking the actions required to stave off calamity though, nothing may save the rich and powerful from a brutal denouement.

Hence the desperate need to keep control of the construction of social reality, and have the general population live in a mental world made up more of misleading hallucinations than actual reality. Such a state can be maintained for lengthy periods of time, as has been the case with the North Korean population who have for decades existed in a social reality more made up of fantasy than reality. Many commentators also give significant weighting to the inability of the East German authorities to block the television signals from the much more prosperous West Germany in undermining the basis of the communist state. Those that consider the internet to be a democratizing antidote to media concentration and control both misunderstand the ongoing concentration within media 24,25,26 on the internet, and the ability of authorities to block sources they find threatening. Also, as has been shown by the details provided by such whistle-blowers as Snowdon27, our new connected age may make the tracking of dissident opinion-formers much easier for the authorities.

References

  1. Lovgren, Stefan (2005), War of the Worlds: Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic.Accessed athttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html

2.     Rieber, Robert & Kelly, Robert (2014), Film, television and the psychology of thesocial dream, Springer.

3.     Stice, Eric & Shaw, Heather (1994), Adverse Effects of the Media Portrayed ThinIdeal on Women and Linkages to Bulimic Symtomatology, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 1994 13.3.288.

4.     Dill, Karen (2009), How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence,Oxford University Press

5.     Berberick, Stephanie Nicholl (2010), The Objectification of Women in Mass Media:Female Self Image in Misogynyst Society, Volume 5 2010.

6.     Shanahan, James (1999), Television and its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research, Cambridge University Press.

7.    Lippman, Walter (2012), Public Opinion, Dover Publications

8.   Herman, Edward & Chomsky, Noam (1988), Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books

9.   n/a (2006), U.S. Military Helps Create Hollywood Films On War and Warriors,PBSNewshour. Accessed at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment-july-dec06-hollywood_10-06/

10.   Rose, Steve (2009), The US military storm hollywood, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/jul/06/us-military-hollywood

11.  Zakarin, Jordan (2012), ‘Act of Valor’ And The Military’s Long Hollywood Mission,Huffington Post. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/act-of-valor-military-hollywood_n_1284338.html

12.   Santhanam, Laura (2014), STUDY: How Broadcast News Covered Climate ChangeIn The Last Five Years, Media Matters. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/01/16/study-how-broadcast-news-covered-climate-change/197612

13.  Fitzsimmons, Jill & Theel, Shauna (2013), STUDY: Media Ignore Climate ChangeContext of Midwest Floods, Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2013/05/07/study-media-ignore-climate-context-of-midwest-f/193936

14.  n/a (2013), TV News and Extreme Weather, Don’t Mention Climate Change, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed at http://fair.org/press-release/tv-news-and-extreme-weather-dont-mention-climate-change/

15.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), New York Times Dismantles Its Environment Desk,InsideClimate News. Accessed at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130111/new-york-   times-dismantles-environmental-desk-journalism-fracking-climate-change-science-global-warming-economy

16.  Ward, Bill (2013), New York Times Cuts Back Again: Farewell to Green Blog,TheYale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Accessed athttp://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2013/03/new-york-times-cuts-back-again-farewell-to-green-blog/

17.  Brainard, Curtis (2008), CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team, ColumbiaJournalism Review. Accessed athttp://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/cnn_cuts_entire_science_tech_t.php?page=all

18.  Nucitelli, Dana (2013), Conservative media outlets found guilty of biased globalwarming coverage, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/oct/11/climate-change-political-media-ipcc-coverage

19.  Valentine, Katie (2013), Britain Cuts Environment Staff As BBC Comes Under FireFor Giving Airtime to Climate Deniers, Climate Progress. Accessed athttp://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/28/2847831/britain-environment-staff-bbc/#

20.  Hartman, Thom (2014), The Mainstream Medias Criminal Climate Coverage,TruthOut. Accessed at http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22123-the-mainstream-medias-criminal-climate-coverage

21.  Robbins, Denise (2014), Report: Reuters Climate Change Coverage Continues ToDecline Under Skeptic Editor, Media Matters for America. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/02/26/report-reuters-climate-coverage-continues-to-de/198220

22.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), Climate Skeptic Groups Launch Global Anti-ScienceCampaign, Bloomberg. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-19/climate-skeptic-groups-launch-global-anti-science-campaign.html

23.  Goldenberg, Suzanne (2013), Secret funding helped fund vast network of climatedenial thinktank, The Guardian. Accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network

24.     n/a (2010), Media Concentration Around the World: Empirical Studies, Columbia University. Accessed at http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/citi/events/mediacon2010

25.     Noam, Eli M. (2013), Who Owns the World Media?, Columbia Business School. Accessed at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2242670

26.  Hindman, Matthew (2008), The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton University  Press

27.     n/a (2014), Snowden: Missions already accomplishedAl Jazeera. Accessed at http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/24/snowden-mission-salreadyaccomplished.html

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity's Test

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity’s Test.

Posted on February 28, 2014 by rboyd

 This is another of my draft chapters from the book, “Schizophrenic Society”, that I am working on. Please feel free to provide editorial feedback.

Since the advent of the printing press and general literacy, media organizations have constructed parallel realities for the general populace. Radio and silent films, followed by “talking pictures” and television went further by creating artificial worlds that can be seen and heard in the same way that the real world is perceived. The human mind  evolved in an environment with no access to such artificial worlds and thus even though a person may know that these worlds are not real their brain will in many ways treat such worlds as if they were. For example, a 1938 radio program in the United States depicting an alien invasion lead many to believe that there really was such an invasion taking place1.

Many psychologists have noticed the similarities between the mental state of dreaming and that of watching television or a movie2. Such a mental state bypasses some of the conscious mechanisms that people utilize to judge between reality and artificial representations, thus making them more susceptible to internalizing media output as if it were real. There have been many documented cases where the media has been shown to affect social reality, from the media emphasis on below-average sized women3 to the extensive usage of violence4 and the objectification of women5. Gerrig6 proposes that there is in fact no clean delineation in a person’s mind between the real and the artificial, with social reality being a combined construct of real world and media experiences.

Thus, media output acts in the same way as the images created by the mind of a hallucinating individual. Not being able to distinguish between the real and the imagined, the individual integrates the two into his conception of reality. The advent of computer games, with the individual transformed into an active participant within the game, only intensifies the challenges to the brain’s ability to assess what is truly real and what is only an artificial illusion. In many cases gamers even prefer their artificial existence to their real one. The same has been noted of participants in the Second Life artificial world.

As societies have grown in size and complexity, and the “local” has become highly integrated with other geographical areas, the individual has become more and more reliant upon the media to provide the information and conceptual structures with which to make sense of the larger world. This reality was captured vividly by Walter Lippman, “Inevitably our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.”7 Thus individuals rely upon the predominant media sources, such as television and film, to both inform them of events and general cultural trends, and help them construct the conceptual frameworks required to understand their meaning and importance. As Lippman noted, “The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event”7, and that mental image is heavily dependent upon the medias depiction of it.

With the power to directly affect the social reality through which individuals make sense of the world, and to decide what events and issues individuals should be made aware of, the media is a central force in the creation of the ruling societal discourse. In a fully working democracy one would expect extensive regulations and oversight to make sure that a great diversity of groups have fair access to media outlets and that such outlets represent a diversity of opinions. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the media industry has become dominated by large private corporations funded by advertising revenue, together with government-funded organizations. Thus, unlike an individual’s hallucinations, the media-created hallucinations are consciously produced predominantly for material gain, or under political constraints.

As Herman and Chomsky have pointed out8, with the advertising revenue model media groups become vehicles to sell things to consumers, rather than the independent purveyors of information about the wider world. Anything that gets in the way of ongoing consumption, and thus the success of advertisements focused on increasing that consumption, will reduce the attractiveness of individual media organizations to the corporations paying for the advertisements. The issues of Climate Change, Peak Resources, and Ecological Degradation are certainly not ones that serve to increase an  individual’s consumption habits. In addition, a greater awareness and understanding of such things could lead to political action to force changes directly upon corporations. If media organizations started to focus heavily on such matters they would be “biting the hand that feeds them”, and thus a high degree of self-censorship would be expected. In many cases advertisers are also directly involved in the process of selecting and developing programs (hence the term “soap operas” which were at first funded by soap companies), allowing them to filter out any “problematic” subjects and themes.

Private media organizations may also be constrained by the need to maintain government licenses, and access for their staff to government officials. In addition, such groups may also want to keep good relationships with the government as they work to reduce regulatory restrictions and grow through mergers and acquisitions that require government approval. Government departments may also offer beneficial support through access to knowledgeable staff and expensive resources for media productions that further their aims. For example, the military have given significant support to television program, film, and even computer game productions that show them in a positive light9,10,11. They can also severely constrain what they see as “bad” reporting, as shown by the embedded journalist program during the Iraqi war, which was designed to eradicate the extensive negative journalism (from the U.S. government’s point of view) seen during the Vietnam war.

With the purchase of media organizations by non-media companies, such as General Electric, and Sony, there is also the increasing problem of not wanting to negatively effect other parts of the conglomerate. In the case of G.E., that may include staying away from contentious stories on nuclear power, the efficacy of mammogram machines, military spending, and foreign arms sales. As media organizations have been allowed to consolidate into massive global corporations focused on growing revenue and profits they also become part of the wealthy and powerful elites. Too much focus on the shortcomings of the economic and social system within which they have flourished, and too heavy a positive coverage of alternatives, would be threatening to their own future prospects.

Overall, the media groups that create our shared hallucinations will tend to be very conservative, protecting the economic and social environment within which they have thrived. This will be reinforced by both the corporations who pay for advertising space and governmental organizations. As humanity’s destruction of the environment continues apace, and becomes more and more visible, these media groups could be expected to work harder to protect the status quo and ignore or downplay inconvenient facts and occurrences. In this light, reductions in staffing and coverage of climate change by media organizations, while the impacts and science become more irrefutable, could be seen as quite logical actions.

In 2013 the TV evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC in the United States covered climate change for a joint one hour and forty two minutes, an improvement over 2012 but still below the 2009 level12. Media groups have also tended to report on weather events as stand-alone occurrences without mentioning climate change13,14. A number of media groups have also significantly reduced the number of journalists covering environmental issues in recent years15,16,17. In addition, a false sense of balance has been used to give climate deniers much more airtime than their representation with the scientific community, less than 5%, would warrant18,19,20, and one news agency has even appointed a “climate skeptic” as its managing editor21. Coverage of climate issues has also predominantly relied upon the use of politicians and social scientists, rather than providing an avenue for scientists to communicate their concerns and findings directly to the public.

The fundamental problem with issues such as Climate Change and Ecological Degradation is that they stem from a core problem, the exponential growth of human demands upon the earth, and thus the only solution is an end to that growth. With the industrialized human societies having spent the past two centuries developing a tight fit to the exponential growth facilitated by fossil fuels, an end to that growth will require wrenching changes to how those societies are structured and operate. Such changes, while producing great concern to the general populace, will be extremely threatening to those that have succeeded under the current societal arrangements. These are the rich and powerful that have most control over media organizations, as well as other determinants of social reality such as the school system and the workplace. To help affect the creation of social reality in their favor, they have created many so-called “independent” think-tanks, and hired public relations groups, to help create a perception of uncertainty on subjects such as climate change and to gain more access for skeptics to the media22,23.

Just as it may have made sense for the Mayan elites to call for more sacrifices to forestall their societies downfall, rather than accept the reality in front of them, it may make sense for the current elites to call for the magic of the “invisible hand” of economics and the wonders of human technology, rather than accept the current reality that so threatens their own wealth and privileges. The longer they practice such conscious ignorance, the more they stand to be accused and attacked, the more such ignorance will be seen as beneficial. Once the media spell is broken, and the duplicity of the elites understood, the wrath of the general populace may be truly horrific. The search for others to “pin the blame on”, and ongoing extensions to the means to monitor and control society, are completely rational actions in this context. If even the members of the police and armed forces come to blame the elites for not taking the actions required to stave off calamity though, nothing may save the rich and powerful from a brutal denouement.

Hence the desperate need to keep control of the construction of social reality, and have the general population live in a mental world made up more of misleading hallucinations than actual reality. Such a state can be maintained for lengthy periods of time, as has been the case with the North Korean population who have for decades existed in a social reality more made up of fantasy than reality. Many commentators also give significant weighting to the inability of the East German authorities to block the television signals from the much more prosperous West Germany in undermining the basis of the communist state. Those that consider the internet to be a democratizing antidote to media concentration and control both misunderstand the ongoing concentration within media 24,25,26 on the internet, and the ability of authorities to block sources they find threatening. Also, as has been shown by the details provided by such whistle-blowers as Snowdon27, our new connected age may make the tracking of dissident opinion-formers much easier for the authorities.

References

  1. Lovgren, Stefan (2005), War of the Worlds: Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic.Accessed athttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html

2.     Rieber, Robert & Kelly, Robert (2014), Film, television and the psychology of thesocial dream, Springer.

3.     Stice, Eric & Shaw, Heather (1994), Adverse Effects of the Media Portrayed ThinIdeal on Women and Linkages to Bulimic Symtomatology, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 1994 13.3.288.

4.     Dill, Karen (2009), How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence,Oxford University Press

5.     Berberick, Stephanie Nicholl (2010), The Objectification of Women in Mass Media:Female Self Image in Misogynyst Society, Volume 5 2010.

6.     Shanahan, James (1999), Television and its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research, Cambridge University Press.

7.    Lippman, Walter (2012), Public Opinion, Dover Publications

8.   Herman, Edward & Chomsky, Noam (1988), Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books

9.   n/a (2006), U.S. Military Helps Create Hollywood Films On War and Warriors,PBSNewshour. Accessed at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment-july-dec06-hollywood_10-06/

10.   Rose, Steve (2009), The US military storm hollywood, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/jul/06/us-military-hollywood

11.  Zakarin, Jordan (2012), ‘Act of Valor’ And The Military’s Long Hollywood Mission,Huffington Post. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/act-of-valor-military-hollywood_n_1284338.html

12.   Santhanam, Laura (2014), STUDY: How Broadcast News Covered Climate ChangeIn The Last Five Years, Media Matters. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/01/16/study-how-broadcast-news-covered-climate-change/197612

13.  Fitzsimmons, Jill & Theel, Shauna (2013), STUDY: Media Ignore Climate ChangeContext of Midwest Floods, Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2013/05/07/study-media-ignore-climate-context-of-midwest-f/193936

14.  n/a (2013), TV News and Extreme Weather, Don’t Mention Climate Change, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed at http://fair.org/press-release/tv-news-and-extreme-weather-dont-mention-climate-change/

15.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), New York Times Dismantles Its Environment Desk,InsideClimate News. Accessed at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130111/new-york-   times-dismantles-environmental-desk-journalism-fracking-climate-change-science-global-warming-economy

16.  Ward, Bill (2013), New York Times Cuts Back Again: Farewell to Green Blog,TheYale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Accessed athttp://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2013/03/new-york-times-cuts-back-again-farewell-to-green-blog/

17.  Brainard, Curtis (2008), CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team, ColumbiaJournalism Review. Accessed athttp://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/cnn_cuts_entire_science_tech_t.php?page=all

18.  Nucitelli, Dana (2013), Conservative media outlets found guilty of biased globalwarming coverage, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/oct/11/climate-change-political-media-ipcc-coverage

19.  Valentine, Katie (2013), Britain Cuts Environment Staff As BBC Comes Under FireFor Giving Airtime to Climate Deniers, Climate Progress. Accessed athttp://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/28/2847831/britain-environment-staff-bbc/#

20.  Hartman, Thom (2014), The Mainstream Medias Criminal Climate Coverage,TruthOut. Accessed at http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22123-the-mainstream-medias-criminal-climate-coverage

21.  Robbins, Denise (2014), Report: Reuters Climate Change Coverage Continues ToDecline Under Skeptic Editor, Media Matters for America. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/02/26/report-reuters-climate-coverage-continues-to-de/198220

22.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), Climate Skeptic Groups Launch Global Anti-ScienceCampaign, Bloomberg. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-19/climate-skeptic-groups-launch-global-anti-science-campaign.html

23.  Goldenberg, Suzanne (2013), Secret funding helped fund vast network of climatedenial thinktank, The Guardian. Accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network

24.     n/a (2010), Media Concentration Around the World: Empirical Studies, Columbia University. Accessed at http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/citi/events/mediacon2010

25.     Noam, Eli M. (2013), Who Owns the World Media?, Columbia Business School. Accessed at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2242670

26.  Hindman, Matthew (2008), The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton University  Press

27.     n/a (2014), Snowden: Missions already accomplishedAl Jazeera. Accessed at http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/24/snowden-mission-salreadyaccomplished.html

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