The probability of global catastrophe is very high; did you hear the one about the polar bear who walked into a bar?
The Examiner presents two posts about the Climate:
The probability of global catastrophe is very high!
The threat is serious, the time short. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists does not move the hands of the Doomsday Clock for light or transient reasons. The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.
During the past several years, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board has grown increasingly concerned as world political leaders dithered, leaving an undeniable threat to the future of mankind—climate change—largely unaddressed. In 2014, leaders in the nuclear weapons countries have consented to a mad dash down an expensive and dangerous path toward “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals; in the process, they turned away from reasonable disarmament efforts and allowed an economic dispute between Ukraine and Russia to turn into an East-West confrontation that hinders cooperation on worldwide nuclear security, arms control, and nonproliferation.
These stunning governmental failures have imperiled civilization on a global scale, and so we, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, implore the citizens of the world to speak clearly, demanding that their leaders:
Take actions that would cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The 2-degree target is consistent with consensus views on climate science and is eminently achievable and economically viable—if national leaders show more interest in protecting their citizens than in serving the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry.
Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs. The United States and Russia have hatched plans to essentially rebuild their entire nuclear triads in coming decades, and other nuclear weapons countries are following suit. The projected costs of these “improvements” to nuclear arsenals are indefensible, and they undermine the global disarmament regime.
Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results. The United States and Russia, in particular, need to start negotiations on shrinking their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals. The world can be more secure with much, much smaller nuclear arsenals than now exist—if political leaders are truly interested in protecting their citizens from harm.
Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem. Reasonable people can disagree on whether an expansion of nuclear-powered electricity generation should be a major component of the effort to limit climate change. Regardless of the future course of the worldwide nuclear power industry, there will be a need for safe and secure interim and permanent nuclear waste storage facilities.
Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies. Scientific advance can provide society with great benefits, but the potential for misuse of potent new technologies is real, unless government, scientific, and business leaders take appropriate steps to explore and address possible devastating consequences of those technologies early in their development.
Last year, with the Doomsday Clock at five minutes to midnight, the members of the Science and Security Board concluded their assessment of the world security situation by writing: “We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking.”
In 2015, with the Clock hand moved forward to three minutes to midnight, the board feels compelled to add, with a sense of great urgency: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”
Did you hear the one about the climate policy analyst? Or the polar bear who walked into a bar?
Adam Corner The Guardian
Climate change is not generally considered a source of amusement: in terms of comedic material, the forecast is an ongoing cultural drought. But perhaps campaigners have missed a trick in overlooking the powerful role that satire and subversion can play in social change. Could humor cut through the malaise that has smothered the public discourse, activating our cultural antennae in a way that graphs, infographics and images of melting ice could never do?
This is the challenge that a panel of British comedians, including Marcus Brigstocke – a seasoned climate humorist, will take up at an event on Tuesday evening hosted by the RSA and the Climate Outreach and Information Network in London (the event is fully booked but it will be streamed live online). Maybe laughing about something as serious as climate change is just another form of denial. But perhaps its relative absence from the comedy realm is another warning sign: despite decades of awareness raising, the cultural footprint of climate change is faint, fragile and all-too-easily ignored.
The first example of a climate-policy parody was probably the ‘Cheat Neutral’ project: a slick spoof of the logic of carbon offsetting whereby people could pay someone else to be faithful, giving them the opportunity to cheat on their husband or wife. And there have other good video mockeries – including one warning that wind farms will blow the Earth off-orbit – which have captured the comedy potential of bizarre debates about energy policy.
This year, Greenpeace teamed up with the surreal comedian Reggie Watts to promote the idea of a 100% renewably powered internet. There have been sporadic examples of climate change ‘stand-up’. And the ever-reliable Simpsons has been occasionally willing to engage.
But these are the exceptions that prove the rule: for the most part, climate gags are notable by their absence.
An ongoing challenge is the polarized nature of the climate debate, with climate skepticism closely pegged to political ideology. According to Nick Comer-Calder, of the Climate Media Net, getting people laughing is a good first step to getting them talking – even across political divides. One analysis found that major US satirists, such as Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, have given more coverage to climate change than many of the news channels – although admittedly, this is a pretty low bar to clear.
But while online ridicule directed towards climate ‘deniers’ (generally portrayed as either too stupid to understand the science, or as conspiracy theorists) may appeal to the usual crowd, its hard to see how this kind of approach will breach the political divide. After all, the feeling of being laughed at by a sneering, left-leaning elite is not appealing. One notorious attempt by the 10:10 campaign and director Richard Curtis at ‘humorously’ marginalising opposition towards environmentalism backfired completely. It turns out that most people don’t find graphic depictions of children’s heads exploding all that hilarious after all…
What’s required is for climate change to seep into the fabric of satirical and humourous TV programming, in the same way that other ‘current affairs’ often provide the backdrop and context for creative output. Jokes ‘about’ climate change can in fact be ‘about’ any of the dozens of subjects – family disputes over energy bills, travel and tourism, or changing consumer habits – that are directly impacted by climate change.
It’s an interesting irony that while the ‘pro-climate’ discourse can often feel po-faced and pious, climate skeptics have wasted no time in parodying the climate community. The Heretic, a play by Richard Bean, built its dramatic tension around the conflict between a sceptical climate scientist and her cynical departmental head who is suppressing her data in order to keep his grants flowing. The characters are overdrawn and instantly recognizable. And, as a result, it works: it is good drama, entertaining, and laugh-out-loud funny.
While climate change itself is never going to be a barrel of laughs, we seem to be suffering from a collective lack of imagination in teasing out the tragi-comic narratives that climate change surely provides.
Thinking harder about how to plug climate change into our cultural circuits – not as ‘edutainment’ but simply as a target of satire in its own right – will be crucial in overcoming the social silence around the issue. The science-communicators don’t seem to be making much progress with the public: maybe its time to let the comedians have their turn.