Sunday, December 02, 2007

Myths, hopes and realities

I had meant to write some days ago (at the time that Benjamin Morris and Bradon Smith at CRASSH linked to the online version of my essay on climate change, culture & imagination) that Marina Warner makes some interesting suggestions for myths for our times. But a 29 Nov BBC report, Deep concern over Three Gorges Dam, prompts a thought about a contemporary 'myth', if that's the right word, not mentioned in Marina's piece.

The BBC story appears online as part of a chain that -- in retrospect, at least -- has a sense of ghastly inevitability: Three Gorges dam wall completed was followed by Three Gorges dam money 'missing' followed by Yangtze pollution 'irreversible' followed by China dam 'catastrophe' warning followed by Millions forced out by China dam. There may be some bias in the presentation, of course, and the complexities in the 'real' stories are many (see, for example, Jim Yardley's New York Times articles of 19 Nov and 28 Nov. I selected extracts from the first in What makes a catastrophe at the world’s largest dam?).

The 'myth' I have in mind is zombies. In World War Z (which I have been reading on the recommendation of David Steven), it's suggested that the plague originates in the deep waters behind the dam where the desperate and displaced go 'moon fishing'.

As is the case with much schlock and horror/comedy-horror, the zombie 'thing' does actually draw on some profound concerns. [It has even been suggested that something like them goes as far back as Gilgamesh.] Those concerns can be ill-defined and/or overlapping. An interpretation for the age of ecological limits would be that zombies represent humanity's relentless, driving appetites that, if unchecked, destroy everything in their path. A similar set of associations can be made with the widespread concept of hungry ghosts.

And, as is the case with many myths, this one carries a warning for what happens when a struggle is lost. ('No effective action was taken even though there were sufficient warnings that the challenge could never just be woven into the fabric of public life, and that it was actually a global catastrophe in the making', as it's put in the interview with Grover Carlson in World War Z).

When it comes to climate change, optimists start with the idea that a solution is possible: typically, a framework for a 'global carbon budget' in which "carbon and carbon equivalent gases will have to be priced so that using them reflect their true social cost" (UNHDR). [ I hope to find an opportunity to comment on some proposed frameworks in another post before too long]. Then it's down to the serious business of actual delivery.

Some recent examples of useful and serious analysis with regard to nitty gritty are Brenda Boardman et al on Home Truths in the UK and the new McKinsey Report on Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Alejandro Litovsky helps articulate a few questions regarding national and international 'agency' (who and what institutions will do what, why and how) in The accountability challenge for climate diplomacy. It's a dry piece, but a main point is right: the IPCC can't do the job.

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