That’s not a conversation


Congratulations. You are living proof that you now live in the time of hyperobjects. Why? You can no longer have a routine conversation about the weather with a stranger.

— Tim Moreton, Hyperobjects.

Lets start with this one point, because there’s every chance you haven’t heard it yet. Global warming, or climate change, or the anthropecene era, whichever name you prefer, is moving at full pace. Partly because we have not reduced carbon emissions globally, but also because the increase in warming has triggered the release of naturally occurring carbon sinks around the world. There are no serious credible arguments anywhere that refute this. The only arguments left, among those qualified to make them, are around the size and the scale of the catastrophes to come. Some will tell you this is completely wrong, and other will tell you its overstated, yet if you deliberately and carefully go to the sources that are the most reputable this is what you will find.

There is no time left to avoid catastrophe. Heat waves in the 1980s were proven causes of the affect nearly 30 years ago. If the work to reduce emissions started then, we might have averted disasters. Now we will not. We have not. 2300 people died in a heat wave in India 2 years ago. Parts of the planet are already becoming uninhabitable. Every year that passes become the hottest on record. As the oceans rise Louisiana is losing land at the rate of one football field per hour. The science was right, and since it was, we should pay attention to the predictions. They are very, very bleak. This crisis is just getting started and soon the deniers will drift into irrelevance. Or die off. Most of them are very old.

If you live in New Zealand your climate change minister is not a credible source of information on climate change. Nor is your prime minister, your minister for energy, or transport, or environment. That is simply a fact. It is possible to find well considered, peer reviewed, sound information on climate change here, but none of it appears to affect the workings of our government. I’ve covered some of this already, and will cover it some more in the future, but only enough to establish that it is undoubtedly the case. Past that, what is the point. You’d elected to do nothing, you are now doing nothing. You’re not even having the discussion. So I should really move on.

The media appears to be about the same. The news show with the highest ratings contains a man who denies the importance of climate change all together, while his co-host shrugs the issue off as something that might need to be considered at some future time when we’ve all made our minds up about it. This strikes me as incredibly stupid and damaging, yet what I really need to take from it is the fact the they remain popular. People are still listening to this and accepting it to be true. Continuing to follow the work of Mike Hosking would seem as pointless as following a drunk man waking up in a strange town as he tries to get home. Plenty of comedy potential, but nothing that might resemble insight.

Meanwhile, local council officials have begun to speak openly about the effects they can see now, and the likelihood that their own people will become climate refugees, and that entire towns may need to be moved.

People like to alarm each other. People know that by alarming others they can sometimes get changes in culture to occur. Older people are particularly weary about alarmist behavior, particularly when it comes to truly dystopian scenarios, because they remember Y2K, the Ozone layer and the cold war. They don’t want to be fooled again. If they weren’t fooled by those things they are probably less likely to get alarmed this time, since it looks like they were proved right then.

But here’s the thing. Those problems were real, and were averted, or reduced, thanks to serious commitments of time and money. No serious commitments were made, on returning from Paris, to change the the use of energy or the release of carbon in New Zealand. Instead, a plan was created to pay billions of dollars in carbon credits to the carbon market. This will prove to be enormously unpopular, and once it has become fait accompli in New Zealand, it seems likely that demands will be made to renege on the deal. Mike Hosking, a vocal if somewhat unofficial arm of the National party has sowed the seed for this discussion already. There is nothing in this piece that can be regarded as news:

The carbon market, I hear you saying “What the hell’s that” … its this invented scheme

Where ‘invented scheme’ is a code for ‘something I haven’t tried to understand but reject completely’. You could call Superannuation an invented scheme. You could call a recipe for jam an invented scheme. This piece astonishes me because when you look at what he’s saying it turns into this: ‘here is something I heard about but don’t completely understand. It appears to address a problem I expect to be trivially easy to fix. In fact I assume the problem is so trivial that you should only act on it if you happen to be interested in it. No one else need bother. This problem, which, I must remind you I have spent no time considering but expect to amount to nothing, should not in any way result in all of us having to share the cost of preventing. Any attempt by others to engage us in this ought to be seen as a scam. Even though we don’t understand the proposed solution, even though we don’t even understand the problem, we have let you know we are too smart to fall for this. Its all a trick. A ruse’.

One thing that might activate the right in all of this is the consideration that our greatest trading partners are taking the accord seriously. I suspect they see China they way I see the climate. As a huge and indifferent entity that keeps us alive and which we need to appease, where we can. It seems reasonable to me that as this crisis progresses the countries that have worked to solve it will apply sanctions on the countries that have not. Top of our list at that point is China, India, the EU. They are all pouring billions into switching to clean energy. As part of their own nations become unlivable they can be expected to find ways to apply pressure where is will be needed.

And climate change is so alarming, it might seem like a ruse. Its just all the mountains of evidence that get in the way. I think the people who like to alarm you hate it the most. They are so used to scaring you about immigrants, or vaccines or cell towers that they hate climate change for getting in on their turf. I think this. If someone makes a living looking for ways to get you enraged about one thing after another, they are not the people you ought to be listening to. If someone has spent their days avoiding sensation, if they have spent their time learning and teaching and being curious and sharing their wonder, and they start using alarming language its time to be alarmed.

I’m pivoting on this blog. I’m starting to think that there’s less point in following the government’s response to the Paris accord while it refuses to do anything. In particular, if the government continues to do nothing and the people approve of that inaction by voting for them, its time to step back and talk to the people.

At this point I started to look a little at the people talking against climate change. I also started to talk more to the people around me. I started to think about the way the conversations worked. I realized that the political environment was becoming as toxic as the physical one. You can’t talk about the physical environment without being dismissed by the right as a lefty. Which means half of the people will ignore you because you represent something that doesn’t concern their side. Even though its literally as big and important as life itself. I will ignore you because you are speaking from the other side and using this as a way to scare me or wind me up.

It might be very, very hard to have sane conversations about this subject. Certainly, I’m finding it so. Particularly when I talk to people who have enjoyed more than their share of privilege. I’ve had more than my share myself, so I run into them all the time. The prospect of getting into a troll war with the right is also depressing. The perilous nature of this moment has made me more aware of the passing of time. I’d like to spend it in the company of people who are able to look at it, not arguing with the ones to want to take me down for trying. Most of all, I want to spend it doing the most human thing we can do – connecting. Whether or not someone agrees with me I want to spend this time having real conversations. Where one side presents a big idea, and the other takes a while to think about it. Where a pause in the conversation is not lowering of the defenses. Where both parties are open to the idea that they might be wrong about any of the things that they say. Where they came together in the first place to share. To pass something on. To get somewhere together.

So I want to make this a conversation about climate change. Where a particular moment ceases to be a conversation, and where it becomes apparent that there is no hope for it to be one again, I will likely pull away. In the faith that most people don’t work like that and I need to move on and find them.

So from here I expect to start recording real conversations. Some will be committed to this cause, and some will not. Either way, we will attempt to share. If we start from the point of view that our very ability to converse needs work we might get somewhere together.



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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.