Friday, October 17, 2014

Alarms and surprises

Paul Kingsnorth's LRB review of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and Don't Even Think About It by George Marshall is worth a read.  For example, Klein's determination to make climate change fit into her pre-existing narrative [1] is well highlighted.

But I take issue with the end of the review, which quotes something Daniel Kahneman said to George Marshall — "there is not much hope" — and appears to take this as conclusive.

I think this falls into the trap of another pre-scripted narrative — that of radical pessimism.

Not only do we not know how things will go; we cannot know how things will go.

What we do know is that we have some freedom of action, albeit with tight constraints.

Sure, the future is likely to be hot, extremely bumpy and crowded, but we should not discount surprise altogether, not least significant technological and/or social changes which reshape the landscape of possibilities.

We should not assume, as Kahneman appears to do here, that climate change can only be tackled by lowering people's standard of living. Indeed, the opposite may be true.

"Anything can happen in life, especially nothing" says Michel Houellebecq. He is right on the first point, not so much on the second.

Note [1]: On narratives, see Culture and Climate Change: Narratives edited by Joe Smith, Renata Tyszczuk and Robert Butler (pdf) for which I organised 11 responses by others to the question, "What kind of story is climate change?" and in which I discussed four stories in the "In Conversation" section (also published here).

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