I keep coming back to the moment Shane Adern drove his tractor up the steps of parliament. What did that statement mean? I take as “This proposal seems so silly I’m assuming its a scam. I reject the science purely out of instinct”. Of course thats true of scientific discovery in general. We generally expect discoveries to be beneficial. Unless they’re cancer or Dutch elm, or something.
We don’t lose sleep over these things because it just seems impossible to imagine the scale. Philospher Tim Moreton describes these as a hyperobjects. Things so big that they seem abstract, when in fact they are as real as a hammer.
That same day another farmer, National MP Lockwood Smith appeared with some cows. Before becoming a politician Smith hosted TV shows for brainy kids – W3 and Its Academic
To this day Adern is pleased with the statement he made. I’m not sure about Lockwood Smith. When you refute a scientific argument by showing up with a tractor and cows I guess you’re saying the science doesn’t matter. Or perhaps, that you think the whole thing is a ruse and you’re not buying it.
That’s pretty much the argument today. When Pauline Hanson jumps in the water to look at the reef or Mark Morano tells us about coral near the equator that thrives in higher temperatures there’s really nothing going on that resembles scientific enquiry since they’re both outside their fields. You might as well be trusting them to diagnose a brain tumor.
So what does happen at those moments? Because it seems as if they are powerful. Its seems to me that if not for millions of moments just like those we would have started work on this problem back in 1988. We’d all be driving electric cars by now, probably paying a lot more for meat and dairy, and we would have developed some technologies we’re struggling with now, only a lot faster.
If we all saw the necessity we would have acted on it. Curiously, back in the 80s climate change wasn’t stuck in the partisan wasteland it inhabits now. You’ll never guess who said this:
We cannot characterise climate change as a debate between economists vs environmentalists. To say that this issue has sides, is about as productive as saying the earth is flat.
That was the 41st POTUS, George Bush Senior, in 1988. Curiously, the mysterious SEP field still cloaks most of his country and ours, and I don’t know what it will take to break it. The barrier reef and the mercury hasn’t been enough. It will happen, but by then it will be a richer shade of too late than it is now.
And I think its just about change. Its about hyperobjects. Now perhaps, when people are questioning the high school science of the Carbon cycle it doesn’t help to pivot off into philosophy. But repeating the science doesn’t seem to work, much as we want it to, so maybe this point of view is worth a shot.
I look at the explosion of energy and creation since James Watt’s invention of the steam engine and it always makes me think of the Australian aborigines. The hyperactive colonials that showed up and tore their world apart were in the throes of a revolution that is now 250 years old. The aborigines had been undisturbed for 44,000 years.
What Tim Moreton is finally finding words for now might well have been named long ago. A dreamtime, or a songline – these seem to fit the same description:
the existential capacity of hyperobjects to outlast a turn toward less materialistic cultural values, coupled with the threat many such objects pose toward organic matter (what Morton calls a “demonic inversion of the sacred substances of religion”), gives them a potential spiritual quality, in which their treatment by future societies may become indistinguishable from reverential care
If its about longevity and survival, and I’d argue that it is, then this comparison makes us look like colossal failures. Glorious, flamboyant, reckless, adventurous, violent thoughtless and hubristic failures. With a few Cassandras going insane while Troy dissolves in flame.
I don’t know what it will take, but I think it may take something unusual. Certainly every commensense approach has been tried, and it works on me. But what it will take for the rest, I’m really can’t say. I’m prepared to go a little wide, figuring there’s really nothing to lose.
I think about Shane’s moment often though. I remember when it happened. I didn’t question the science then either, since I had not reason to. I figured that unless you were the right kind of scientist, you had no business doing that.
I think its about change. I think when you confront people with notion of enormous change, the sort that could completely remove the world they grew up in, that they shrug it off. Not because they have empirical evidence that it couldn’t happen, but simply because its inconceivable. Its still inconceivable now, by the looks.
I have one simple thing that people could try. If you’ve found yourself dismissing this without real evidence, and just because it seems too much to conceive, try and connect with someone who really did lose everything. Its suprisingly easy, and you’ll be amazed how good it feels just to connect. You may even start to wonder, like I do, that if this gift of connection could be passed around it might be possible to cure something as big and broken as the GOP itself.
If its a homeless person, it might cost you five bucks. A refugee perhaps the cost of a taxi ride. Whoever you find, make sure they know you’re there to talk. To listen. To acknowledge. Not everyone wants to talk of course, but some always do. Connect, listen, then think about starting over when everything has been torn apart.
Then take it back, to the day the white faces first appeared in the continent next door, and 44 thousand years of walking and dreaming came to an end.
After that, consider the carbon and go back to the hyperobject.