24 June 2009
United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference
exploring the underside of climate change
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Written on the occasion of an announcement by the FAO of 1.02 billion people hungry and by the World Bank of a trillion dollar drain on the world's poor, with flows to the developing world halving in 2009 as a result of the financial recession
This is a contribution to future reflection on the significance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Copenhagen, 7-18 December 2009). The argument is summarized by a folktale. The case is supported below by the following interlinked considerations:
The approach taken in what follows is not to argue cases at length but rather to point to documents where arguments are more fully developed.
Given the probable systemic links between "climate change" and "human activity", the following table is indicative of the problematic nature of the current focus at the time of writing.
Interpretation of the above table is reinforced by the following trends resulting from use of Google Trends. This facility enables comparison between the volume of searches on the web for particular topics over a period of years. Note that the table above gives data on hits for combinations of terms present in indexed documents, in contrast with the graphs below which relate only to separate search terms, irrespective of whether they were associated with any hits (singly or in combination).
The case has long been made, notably by the Club of Rome in its report on Limits to Growth (1972), that the challenge for civilization is a complex dynamic of problems -- a world problematique (Ken Bausch, Problematique and the Club of Rome). Successive editions of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential have profiled and interrelated some 56,564 such problems, variously recognized by different constituencies. Within that context, "climate change" can now perhaps best be seen as the "flavour of the year" -- if it is not displaced before 2010 by some other challenge. It is not a question of a single problem but of a system, or an ecology, of interacting problems. The challenge is a complex systemic challenge.
It might be said that there are two interlinked dynamics, that of the crises rising or falling in importance and impact (in their own right), and that of the rising and falling collective appreciation of their importance. The latter dynamic may be seen in terms of successive waves of recognition of "the" major problem against which global mobilization is called for in order to "save civilization". This is discussed separately (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009).
In the light of this recognition it becomes extremely questionable to articulate strategies that fail to recognize this complexity.
"Climate change" as the "most important problem facing humanity": Constituencies promoting the need for greater attention to "climate" change, distort the nature of the challenge by claiming it to be the "most important" problem facing humanity, or a "last chance" to save humanity. Many challenges may be claimed to be important, depending on the perspective of the constituency recognizing it most clearly, the level of pain or disruption it causes, and the level of urgency claimed for any response.
Starvation might well be perceived as more important by those currently affected by it, disease by those immediately affected by it, violence by those suffering daily from it, etc. "Terrorism" preceded "climate change" in being claimed to be the most important long-term challenge. "Social unrest" may become more important if the rate of recovery from the current economic disaster is such as to ensure that "joblessness" is experienced as the most important problem for many. Is "climate change" to be framed as another "multi-generational war"?
Claiming primary importance for "climate change" therefore ignores the realities experienced by many and claims a primary reality which may well be considered an unconfirmed abstraction inferred by some from disastrous incidents. Claims of equal abstraction might similarly be made for "greed" as inhibiting emergence of solutions (such as food distribution to the starving) or "hedonism" as notably claimed from some faith-based perspectives.
The problem with this framing is that it is essentially static. It ignores the existence of problems cited as the most important facing civilization very few years ago -- such as terrorism, then scheduled to be a primary concern in the multi-generational "war on terror". It ignores the possibility of problems whose impact may prove more disastrous long before those of climate change -- such as food shortage, water shortage or pandemics, or even the current economic crisis. It ignores the possibility of other as yet unforeseen challenges for which a degree of vigilance is more than appropriate. How significant was "climate change" five years ago? How significant was the financial crisis less than a year ago -- especially in the eyes of General Motors and its expert consultants, for example? It ignores the possibility of a combination of such challenges -- a "crisis of crises".
To what extent is "climate change" neatly framed as a readily comprehensible, one-problem challenge, appropriate to a favoured style of governance? The recent promotion of "terrorism" as the primary problem (Promoting a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism Strategy of choice for world governance, 2002), has provided a context for commentary on the challenges of this approach, reviewed under the following headings:
The questions that are carefully avoided include:
"Climate change" as a surrogate for avoidance of other issues and more comprehensive debate: If a problem is identified as worthy of focus by governance, an unasked question is whether it has been so selected as a form of "scapegoat" to avoid consideration of systemic issues. A simpler problem may then be a surrogate for more complex problems. To what extent is the challenge of "climate change" being framed as a very convenient surrogate -- as perhaps was "terrorism" before it. Much of the "blame" may be held to be systemic, beyond the specific responsibility of any identifiable group. An array of (possibly token) remedial measures may then be promoted.
Such a framing neatly avoids consideration of the challenge of ever increasing population size -- driving climate change and a whole array of "shortages" that are likely to reach catastrophic proportions long before those of climate change. At the time of writing the FAO announced: "One sixth of humanity undernourished - more than ever before" (1.02 billion people hungry, 19 June 2009).
The case of "climate change" is especially interesting at this time because the manner in which it is framed may be understood as a means of obscuring even more "inconvenient truths". It is itself a metaphor, as exploited to explain the financial crisis (Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change: systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating, 2008; Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change: insights from metaphorical confusion, 2008). As such climate change may be used to identify the nature of the underlying challenge (Systemic Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future strategy? 2008). However, it is nevertheless in itself a surrogate problem.
Perhaps more ironic is the recent emergence of a challenge which has effectively displaced "climate change" as a priority, namely the financial crisis of 2008 and its current consequences. Ironically, in the desperate search for whom to blame for this crisis, recourse has been had to metaphors associated with climatic change and the natural disasters to which it is expected to give rise: "hurricane", "storm", "tsunami", "landslide", etc. The irony is greater since the financial crisis is clearly the consequence of human activity. But the exculpatory metaphors imply that it is a systemic "Act of God" -- whereas it has been vigorously claimed by some that climate change is not.
A strong case can be made that the focus on "climate change" is a device for avoidance of any consideration of the challenge of unchecked population growth that is driving it -- as the more fundamental inconvenient truth (Climate Change and the Elephant in the Living Room, 2008; Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008). No matter the degree of success in mitigating climate change in the short term, such growth will however rapidly undermine any such achievement and ensure that other shortages render climate change a secondary problem (John L. Farrands, Challenge of Overpopulation: now for some real problems -- Don't Panic, PANIC, 1993).
Such a view is contested by the United Nations Population Division (The Future of Fertility in Intermediate-Fertility Countries, 2002) which has dramatically reduced its world fertility projections. Instead of an ever-growing world population, the U.N. then concluded that: The state of current knowledge, buttressed by the actual experience of a growing number of countries, suggests that lengthy periods of below-replacement fertility are likely to be common in the future. This lends to such conclusions as that of James M. Taylor (U.N. Study Ends Overpopulation Fears, Environment and Climate News, May 2002). Unfortunately such conclusions fail to address the question of whether population levels are already unsustainable, either globally or locally.
A search of the website of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reveals that terms like "overpopulation" and "population control" are specfically deprecated (Journalist's Notebook: What's in a Word? 1999). The UNFPA is responsible for an annual report (The State of World Population: unleashing the potential of urban growth. 2007; The State of World Population: culture, gender and human rights, 2008). The population policies of the UN have notably been affected by the faith-based perspective of the USA, and possibly by that of other faith-based permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is probably fair to say that UNFPA has put more effort into minimizing or denying the challenge of overpopulation, or reframing it "positively" (as in the subtitles of its various annual reports) rather than in addressing it.
Put at its most succinct, the United Nations effectively denies, on behalf of its member states, that there is any problem of overpopulation, now or in the decades to come.
However in a declaration to a conference on the Interface between Population, the Environment and Poverty Alleviation (Lyon, 2008) the director of the information and external relations division of UNFPA stated:
With respect to intergovernmental statistics, it is appropriate to be aware of the fact that the statistical office of the European Commission, was faced with allegations regarding corruption in its statistical agency (Eurostat). This raises the interesting question as to whether vested interests, including some member states, were involved in massaging real European data into imaginary forecasts on which policies had then been "authoritatively" based. The UN system has of course had its own corruption scandals.
Although this continues to be a matter of some debate, the question here is not the quality of the scientific work done within different disciplinary frameworks with respect to "climate change". This argument does not question the evidence for climate change. Rather it questions how such conclusions may be abused and misused.
Given that the United Nations Conference on Climate Change is part of the follow-up process to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Rio de Janeiro, 1992) is it appropriate to note another outcome of that 1992 conference, namely Agenda 21. UN commitment to this programme was affirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002).
However, as discussed in relation to work on the Global Strategies Project, although claiming to respond to systemic issues associated with development and environment, Agenda 21 is essentially an asystemic document in which few systemic linkages between its constituent chapters are acknowledged. It can thus only engender systemic failures when it is "successfully" implemented on a chapter by chapter basis through fragmented institutional systems at the international or local levels (Strategic ecosystem: Feedback loops and dependent co-arising, 1995). That project devoted significant resources to introducing the systemic links ignored by the Agenda 21 framing.
The UN Conference on Climate Change inherits the original framing of Agenda 21 and therefore is inherently an asystemic initiative.
Scientific research "nested" within an unscientific, asystemic context: Partly because of the controversy within science, and in other contexts, opposition to the challenge originally framed as "global warming" has been mitigated by:
This compounds the methodological issues of disciplines typically challenged by interdisciplinary relationships, especially those involving both the natural and social sciences. Consequently discussion of "climate change" minimizes reference to forms of "human activity" which may be driving climate change -- other than those directly associated with the industrial and agricultural sectors. The systemic framing of "climate change" is done by what amounts to an exercise in definitional game-playing or conceptual gerrymandering. This excludes features of the system to which the disciplines specifically competent with respect to "climate change" are insensitive and typically consider irrelevant, if not meaningless.
As implied above, it is curious that many of the supposedly tangible systems, on which independent conventional strategic initiatives have focused, are now challenged. These include: resources, food (and its distribution), water (and its distribution), climate, biodiversity, security, housing, energy. These have given rise to numerous international initiatives, with their associated meetings and studies. As noted above, this situation is even more curious in that the interrelationship between a set of such tangible systems was the subject of innovative global modelling publicized by the Club of Rome in 1972.
Especially interesting is the manner in which efforts to analyze the evolution of the world problematique from that time have themselves been undermined in an academic context. As shown by Graham Turner (A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, CSIRO 2007), the original study provoked many criticisms which falsely stated its conclusions in order to discredit it. Despite the repeated substantiation of its conclusions, including warnings of overshoot and collapse, recommendations of fundamental changes of policy and behaviour for sustainability have not been taken up. One of its principal areas of focus was population. (cf Donella H. Meadows, et al. Limits to Growth: the 30-year update, 2004).
Curiously, "global modelling" in its original and more general sense -- and as notably focused by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Balaton Group -- has been transformed into a variety of specialized, non-interacting modelling initiatives. An exception may ironically prove to be the Sentient World Simulation of the US Department of Defense. IIASA was notable for producing Population Projection Results based on multiple scenarios, optimistic and pessimistic (Wolfgang Lutz Ed.), The Future Population of the World: what can we assume today? 1996).
This process of "undermining" multi-systemic integrative initiatives is evident in many contexts. One example is that relating to the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, as an alternative approach to global modelling (Assessment: Global modelling perspective; Simulating a Global Brain: using networks of international organizations, world problems, strategies, and values, 2001).
In the analysis of the challenge of "climate change", the scientific focus is effectively on the "downstream systemic consequences" that can be assiduously treated on the assumption that the "upstream causes", and their progressive increase, can be ignored by appropriately framing the boundary of systemic relevance. This approach can possibly be understood as an exemplification of nonscientific causal reasoning -- otherwise termed magical thinking.
This is a deliberate promotion of asystemic thinking -- focusing on the "symptom" rather than the "disease" engendering that symptom. The "disease" will not disappear as a consequence of palliative measures. Who is responsible for this asystemic framing -- which goes completely counter to the thinking first embodied in the original Club of Rome report (Limits to Growth, 1972)? The case has been strongly argued by the former Permanent Head of the Department of Science of Australia, John L. Farrands (Don't Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create fear, 1993).
The current volume of remarkable discussion of the technicalities of emissions and carbon trading -- the theme of the UN Climate Change Conference -- is then to be seen as a measure of the lack of ability to apply that degree of focus to the engendering processes of climate change. A prime example is population growth (cf Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008).
Promotion of "consensus" on "climate change" by the sciences: It is curious the degree to which the disciplines with competence in the science of "climate change" have become complicit in non-scientific processes to reflect a consensus in response to "climate change denial". In contrast to numerous other strategic controversies, Wikipedia has an entry on Consensus on climate change controversy which asserts that:
This entry is linked to a separate Wikipedia entry identifying the views of the scientific bodies (Scientific opinion on climate change). A further article (Climate change denial) describes efforts to counter all or part of the theory of global climate change.
No other controversy in Wikipedia has such a systematic array of articles in relation to the many controversies in science, religion and ideology. To that extent it would appear that the sciences have become complicit in promoting a particular understanding and denying any merit to other understandings. As the quote above indicates, "human activities" are focused on "forest fuel burning" and "deforestation" -- avoiding the issues of exploding population growth which engender the unsustainable levels of such activities. From a systems perspective, this might be understood as exemplifying intellectual dishonesty. This might also be understood as the conversion of the "science" of climate change into an uncritical religion with respect to the larger context, irrespective of the admirable science undertaken on the specifics of climate change (cf Cliff Connelly, The Climate Change Religion, 8 December 2008)
The focus on "consensus" is especially unscientific in that it fails to reflect the dynamics of science associated with dissenting perspectives (Nigel Calder, An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change, The Sunday Times, 11 February 2007). Such a static understanding of science is condemned to staggering forward into the future through a succession of disruptive conceptual revolutions, as highlighted by Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962), without being able to encompass its own process. Is it to be assumed that subtler perspectives on "climate change" will not continue to emerge, challenging the comprehension of today's consensus on the "most important problem facing humanity"?
Reliance on modelling methodology (recently demonstrated to increase global vulnerability disastrously): Exploration of phenomena through which "climate change" has been recognized has depended heavily on the use of an array of climate models whose conception is much to be appreciated. However questions may legitimately be asked as to the attention given to the factors excluded as irrelevant to those models, as opposed to those on which science has been narrowly focused to affirm the existence of "climate change". As noted above, the Limits to Growth report included a wider range of factors.
Much has been made of the estimates by economists that economic development will "peak" at a manageable "plateau" of population in decades to come. It is the universal achievement of a satisfactory standard of living which it has been assumed will constrain further increase in the population -- especially in the light of assumptions about the genius of human ingenuity in responding to resource crises. Unfortunately the majority of the economists associated with the "consensus" regarding those estimates would appear to have been implicated in the "consensus" regarding assumptions of the stability of the financial system -- proven to be seriously ill-founded by the financial crisis of 2008, and the following economic consequences. As with the scientific authorities (now in consensus regarding climate change), this included the economic and financial bodies and authorities -- including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Given the unprecedented level of global disaster associated with complicity in the economic modelling assumptions regarding the invulnerability of the financial system, would it not be prudent to question:
What disciplinary expertise would usefully explore the degree of groupthink and silo thinking associated with the arrogant assertions of the financial community that so effectively denied the vulnerability of the financial system and ensured the complicity of a spectrum of authorities in this belief? To what degree might it be assumed that those making geo-engineering proposals are similarly constrained and how might this be determined?
Given the criticism of financial modelling by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007), recently followed by that of Pablo Triana (Lecturing Birds on Flying: can mathematical theories destroy the financial markets? 2009), it is appropriate to ask whether the climate change modellers are vulnerable to analogous weaknesses and blindspots. The financial-economic consensus failed to recognize a factor that led to collapse, as has been usefully explained by Felix Salmon (Recipe for Disaster: the formula that killed Wall Street, Wired, 17.03, March 2009). As had been indicated by the originator of the formula: "Very few people understand the essence of the model" (Mark Whitehouse, Slices of Risk, The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2005).
What might be the factor that the climate change consensus is failing to recognize? Or is it the case, as with the modellers on whom the financial community depended, that they will simply claim that their models were just that and it was the responsibility of others how they were used or misused?
Will a United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference exemplify such misuse? Will the emergence of the implications of the overpopulation factor be constrained by the processes identified by Karen A. Cerulo (Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst, 2006).
The challenge of faith-based governance is now widely recognized, especially in the light of the "crusade" against one faith-based culture at the instigation of the leaders, as men of faith, of two permanent members of the UN Security Council (Future Challenge of Faith-based Governance, 2003). The issues of faith driving "jihad" in its most problematic forms are also well recognized -- justifying the framing by Sam Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 1996). The question is to what extent such issues of faith will impact upon the framing of strategies relating to climate change, given the extent to which belief in particular understandings of it is being transformed into a form of religion.
Identifying "unbelief" and "denial" to stigmatize critics of "climate change": Given the faith-based leadership in response to the "war on terror", critics were framed as "them", naturally to be suspected of complicity with terrorism of some form. This pattern had previously been activated in response to communism. Corresponding attitudes and condemnation are associated with religious doubters and "unbelievers". In both cases sanctions may be applied -- possibly of great severity. Guantanamo Bay is a testimony to such treatment.
It is appropriate to note the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
In a faith-based context however, it is then appropriate to question the extent to which denial of climate change is then to be challenged as an example of the phenomenon of denialism identified in a Wikipedia entry as:
Curiously, however, the term is not used in relation to religious or ideological consensus. However, in a global society enthusiastically labelled as a knowledge-based learning society, it might be assumed that the formation of consensus merits careful consideration, as noted by various authors (Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1988; Robert G. Evans, Manufacturing Consensus, 1995; David Healy, Manufacturing Consensus, 2004). In this sense it is appropriate to question to what ends climate change consensus is being "managed". One candidate is of course the technocratic constituencies favouring geoengineering responses to the challenge (Geo-engineering Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization, 2008).
The danger of framing consensus and denial in this way is that it lends itself to criminalization -- as with Holocaust denial in some countries. Given the alleged importance of climate change for the future security of humanity, might it even be expected that those suspected of not being "on-programme" in response to climate change should be subject to the legislative provisions for rendition and incarceration with which the world is now so familiar?
Any such policies are of course justified by forms of "demonisation" -- a pattern transferred from the religious to the political context. The religious pattern of shunning offers a useful framework for exploring this (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008).
Failure to consider issues conflicting with predetermined ideological or religious dogma: Once "climate change" takes the form of a necessary belief, any issues that might in any way challenge that faith are necessarily unworthy of consideration. They are readily associated with the doubters and deniers that merit condemnation. This is effectively the status of population growth as one of the primary elements of "human activity" disguised by the accepted manifestation of "fossil fuel burning" and "deforestation". It is indeed currently inconceivable to consider the nature and consequences of the climate change phenomenon if the world population were a tenth of what it is -- even though this situation might be brought about by a variety of disasters of various probabilities.
Whether or not such population reduction may occur through disaster, the most problematic feature of the current approach to "climate change" is the manner in which population considerations have been systematically excluded from any strategic discussion -- irrespective of whether it is politically feasible to restrict population growth in any way.
More problematic still is the manner in which various constituencies have acted to ensure that population issues are indeed excluded from any debate on the current challenges facing humanity (malnutrition, environmental spoliation, water shortages, land shortages, disease, etc). These political process are themselves designed out of any "climate change" model. It is a feature of the "unsaid" (Global Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid": from myth-making towards a "wisdom society", 2003).
This challenge is discussed in:
Failure to identify issues which are too problematic to recognize and discuss: Beyond the considerations reinforced by religious dogma are the issues which go to the heart of the manner in which the coherence and viability of global society is currently sustained. As further instances of the "unsaid", these are therefore even more "taboo" as a topic of discussion -- or for inclusion in any "scientific" model of climate change. Essentially these are the fundamental parameters that determine the nature of society as it is understood -- the "constants", necessarily fixed, whose fixity is not subject to question. They include assumptions that:
Discussion of the identity of the bodies sustaining these assumptions is no more admissible than any challenge to those assumptions.
Institutionalization of double standards with respect to suffering: Whereas the above points relate primarily to failure to consider the implications of explosive growth in births, potentially even more problematic is recognition of the contradictions associated with death. As in the most primitive societies, these too are effectively surrounded by a complex of taboos as part of the "unsaid". The relevance to any response to climate change is that framing the challenge inappropriately may well give rise to an unforeseen number of deaths due to the assumption that the problem is adequately contained by the strategies implemented.
It is difficult to deny the continuing increase in arms investment in death-dealing weapons, whether as weapons of mass destruction, of a more conventional kind, or as small arms. A vast array of rationalizations is deployed to justify this and the associated manufacture and trade in arms. In the case of small arms, the right to bear them may even be upheld as essential to democracy, even though depriving societies of such arms may be framed as essential to development of democracy (Arming Civil Society Worldwide: getting democracy to work in the emergent American Empire? 2003).
Whilst this may be deplored by the religions upholding the value of human life, it is not condemned. It is notably justified in any faith-based government in terms of the arguments for "crusade" and "jihad". The past century has been the bloodiest in the history of humanity (List of wars and disasters by death toll). In any moral argument, the unfortunate necessity for inflicting death is necessarily the fault of the other -- of those so killed, however they need to be framed as acting so as to invite that outcome (a form of argument, blaming the victim, much contested by feminists in the case of rape).
Other than through warfare, inflicting death has been most notably associated with massacres (Events named as massacres).
This institutionalized capacity deliberately to inflict death has been accompanied by a remarkable capacity to allow death to occur, irrespective of the suffering associated with what may be a drawn out process. Controversially this may be a matter of deliberate policy or as a consequence of inappropriate policy. Examples include:
In each such case, the process of allowing suffering to occur may derive in part from deliberate failure to anticipate the event, withholding relief, or provision of merely token relief ("too little, too late"). Allowing death to occur in this way effectively absolves any responsibility for enabling the process -- even though "withholding assistance to persons in danger" is subject to penal sanction in some jurisdictions. Given this tendency in policy making, and the well-documented consequences, it is appropriate to assume that some constituencies failing to respond effectively to the challenges of climate change may in fact be assuming, if only implicitly, that any deaths arising from it are tolerable. This is the tradition of tolerable mega-deaths -- "thinking the unthinkable" -- given credibility in relation to the strategy of mutually assured destruction.
Despite the collective willingness to tolerate these processes, a seemingly quite distinct set of attitudes is brought into play with respect to individual exposure to potential suffering and death. Examples include:
Institutionalization of suffering: Despite such contradictions, whilst the consequences of climate change and its mismanagement may give rise to unprecedented levels of suffering, the possibility is excluded that some may wish to avoid the associated indignities. It is appropriate to note the arguments advanced against this. Most striking in its hypocrisy are those of the medical profession, highlighted at the time of writing by two accounts on the same day:
These examples indicate the twisted logic of the complicity of physicians in "assisted torture" on the one hand and their opposition to "assisted suicide" on the other. Such issues are set within a context of the involvement of physicians in a long and dubious tradition of medical experimentation on humans, whether as volunteers, fully informed or not, or under coercion.
Whilst it is claimed that the ethical issues regarding such matters have been resolved through the Declaration of Helsinki (1964) of the World Medical Association, it is clear that the medical profession has been unable to address the issue of assisted suicide in a manner "meaningful" to those who might assume that they have a right of choice on whether or when to die. It is argued that resistance to assisted suicide ensures protection from inappropriate coercion. Unfortunately for the medical profession any claim to objectivity is totally compromised by the fact that it benefits financially from patients most in the final months of terminal illness when suffering may be extreme.
It might be further argued that "coercion" is precisely to what increasing numbers of people are subject through structural violence against which they are powerless. It is of course the case that it is the call on medical resources in the final months of life that contributes most to GNP -- effectively making the terminally ill some of the most productive members of society from an economic perspective.
The hypocrisy of this laissez faire attitude towards the suffering of others, however much such suffering is verbally deplored, is likely to prove to be a significant factor in the conception of strategies in response to "climate change" and the probable increase in the suffering of millions. Such has been the consequence of the handling of the economic consequences of the financial crisis of 2008. Failure to address such issues is then tantamount to the institutionalization of suffering.
If such suffering is to be justified in some tortuous way as part of the battle of humanity for global security, then those conscripted to fight this battle should at least have access to an "exit pill" -- as has been the case with commandos in elite military forces, whose honour, objectivity and courage are never brought into question. This might go some way to mitigate the failure to honour people with a contraceptive "entry pill" to reduce the suffering they are encouraged to engender.
In seeking to address the "most important problem facing humanity", it might be asked to what extent the structure, content and processes of the United Nations Climate Change Conference will reflect "new thinking" of any kind . Given its institutional framework, is there not every likelihood that it will replicate the procedures of decades past, especially since these define a "comfort zone" for all concerned? If that is the case, is it not highly probable that the outcome will correspond to the outcomes of past events organized in terms of this mindset -- outcomes whose adequacy to purpose has been repeatedly challenged?
Fundamentally the question is the "delivery capacity" of such gatherings, irrespective of the binding agreements to which participants may commit in principle. A much acclaimed success "on paper" is in no way a guarantee of implementation -- as past agreements have made only too evident.
Challenges of broken promises and commitments, disguised by tokenism: It is typical of each new event of this kind that it fails to consider explicitly the weaknesses and failures of past events. These are typically not documented, especially since no evaluation process is designed into their design. Little record is systematically kept of the degree to which commitments have been met in realtion to those orginally made. Any such information is typically either anecdotal or fragmentary and seldom publicly available (on the web). On the other hand every use is made of public relations techniques to claim otherwise, or to disguise failure to meet commitments. The emergence of new crises -- declared to be of greater importance to the future of humanity -- may readily be used as a means of disguising this process.
Abuse of faith in governance: The manifest incompetence of governance (whether nationally, regionally or internationally) in its complicity in processes engendering the financial crisis of 2008 -- and in ensuring a viable systemic response to it -- suggests that it would be naive to believe that such mechanisms will be adequate to the challenges of climate change. With increasing unemployment giving rise to increasing social unrest through recognition of increasing social inequality, the loss of credibility of governance has become only too evident despite efforts to "talk things up" (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008; Abuse of Faith in Governance Mystery of the Unasked Question, 2009). At issue however is the manner in which the viability of such mechanisms is currently questioned in the desperate effort to return to "business as usual".
Lack of the political will to change: This phenomenon might be considered the "skeleton in the cupboard" of the international system -- over many decades (International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change, 1970). The inability to reform the United Nations, and especially to modify its Charter, has become legendary. It might be asked whether the "most important problem facing humanity" would justify any such action and, if justified, whether any appropriate action could be taken in time to meet the needs of the crisis. The situation is paralleled by the increasing disaffection of national electorates in terms of which members of the United Nations claim to speak -- in order to give legitimacy to the first words of its Charter: "We the Peoples...". Promotion of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly remains problematic given the questionable legitimacy of national parliaments and the much publicized problematic behaviour of their members.
Lack of political courage to consider alternatives: Irrespective of any political will to undertake new approaches (beyond tokenism), most striking is the blinkered manner in which "new" strategic options are considered. This has been remarkably evident in the case of the G20 Summit (London, 2009) and its approach to remedies to the financial crisis (Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital necessity, 2009). It has been similarly evident in the major commitment to resources in response to the previous challenge so vital to the future of humanity, namely terrorism, now held to be engendered in Afghanistan (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009).
There is a certain irony to the extent to which "conventional" strategic remedies may be compared to "conventional" medicine -- vigorously promoted by powerful interest groups anxious to deprecate as dangerous those "alternatives" that may be more readily accessible to many (Remedies to Global Crisis: "Allopathic" or "Homeopathic"? Metaphorical complementarity of "conventional" and "alternative" models, 2009). This comparison may have implications for responses to climate change -- where innovative proprietary "solutions" are progressively given spurious legitimacy in order to marginalize popular initiatives, especially if the former call for larger investment in geoengineering options.
5. Problematic progressive focus on unproven geoengineering options as offering the most viable solution
Science, to its shame, has been complicit to the highest degree in the design of weaponry of every kind, notably in order to maximize the effects of weapons of mass destruction. Because of the nature of research funding, it has been unable to distance itself from this involvement. In effect it is science which has been the handmaiden in the dubious institutional marriage -- the military-industrial complex of which Dwight Eisenhower famously warned (Farewell Speech Address, 1961). Of extreme concern is how science's role of cognitive handmaiden may evolve in future society -- as famously suggested by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale, 1985). Such complicity calls for the kind of precautions accepted in the case for the separation of church and state -- prior to the resurgence of faith-based governance.
Within this context of unchallenged complicity, the role of science in promoting geoengineering solutions to the challenge of climate change should be observed with the greatest caution, as argued separately (Geo-engineering Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization, 2008). Any such solution could only too easily become the RMS Titanic of the 21st century -- but with irreparable consequences as a global project.
A number of resources explore the pychology of climate change denial; conferences are held on the topic. Curiously there appears to be little discussion of whether that form of denial is related to recognition of other issues, or whether the focus on this particular form of denial is itself a denial of the possible significance of such issues. Brendan O'Neill (Pathologising dissent? Now that's Orwellian, Spiked, 4 March 2009) notes:
Ironically and paradoxically, every constituency's favourite challenge enables those who fail to recognize its importance to be framed as in denial -- even pathologically so.
Denial: The phenomenon of overpopulation denial has notably been recognized by a member of the Advisory Council of the Optimum Population Trust (Rosamund McDougall, Overpopulation denial is a fatal game, Biologist, 53, 3, June 2006). Deploring ignorance of the implications of population growth in the policy community, McDougall argues
Chuck Burr (Overpopulation is a Cultural Challenge, Culture Change, 4 April 2009) argues that it is a cultural and educational challenge for us to teach the next generation not to make the same indefinite growth mistake we made. For Burr:
Overpopulation: Patrick Curry (Ecological Ethics: an introduction, 2005) presents human overpopulation as a case study in an effort to clarify what it is and is not. He argues that the Overpopulation Denial Syndrome has so obscured the whole subject, even from the viewpoints of human self-interest, but together with the disastrous consequences of overpopulation for non-human nature.
There is a long history of concern with overpopulation. The former Head of the Department of Science of Australia commented on the evidence for priority challenges (John L. Farrands, Don't Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create fear, 1993) concluding with a focus on an underlying problem (Challenge of Overpopulation, 1993). On the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), an analysis of the issues endeavoured to integrate that of population (Sustainable Development Issues (Population): Configuring strategic dilemmas in intersectoral dialogue, 1992).
A commentary on the report of the International Commission on Peace and Food (Uncommon Opportunities: an agenda for peace and equitable development, 1994) noted:
Shortages: As noted previously (Abuse of Faith in Governance: mystery of the unasked question, 2009), the unasked question in governance processes in relation to increasing population is associated with "shortages".
The issue is then how do the unasked questions relating to "shortage" problems interact? How does the focus on each such shortage as "the dramatic problem facing humanity" effectively obscure consideration of a potentially much more fundamental unasked question in relation to population? This has been discussed separately (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008; Root Irresponsibility for Major World Problems: the unexamined role of Abrahamic faiths in sustaining unrestrained population growth, 2007).
Dialogue, argument and issue mapping: Given the allegedly fundamental strategic importance of "climate change", there is a strong case for examining the relationships between the set of concepts by which it is understood through the development of some form of cognitive map. This offers a means of systematically capturing insights relating to climate change in comprehensive maps which can be placed on the web (or used in hardcopy form by conference participants). This would complement the current use of linear text, statistical graphs and graphical images and movies. There are established techniques for doing this for purposes of knowledge representation (cf Complementary Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006 ). They include developing:
Such mapping may be done as part of any facilitation process in a given session, or independently of it to integrate insights across sessions. Ideally the points made in any panel session would gradually build a map, or build on a pre-existing map, allowing panelists and participants to talk to the map and enhance or correct it. As a network Global Sensemaking is especially sensitive to the range of such possibilities, notably with respect to argument mapping. and the "tools for dialogue and deliberation on wicked problems". Separately the case has been made for using such a map as a "Magna Carta": Configuring interlocking pathways for circular argumentation (Engaging with Globality through Cognitive Realignment, 2009) -- in contrast to the asystemic structure of Agenda 21 (1992).
Polyhedral configuration of envisaged initiatives: Given the strategic complexity of the articulation of the envisaged global response to climate change, there is a case for moving beyond reliance on conventional two-dimensional maps into the three-dimensional configuration of issues relating to climate change, as discussed separately (Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008; Towards Polyhedral Global Governance complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors, 2008). Such software-facilitated techniques may enable a shift out of an inadequate "flat earth" mentality inappropriate to a global challenge (Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008).
Application of critical thinking to detect fallacious argument: Such argument mapping exercises facilitate the highlighting of inappropriate arguments on which the methods of critical thinking can focus. It would be useful to test arguments relating to proposed climate change initiatives in terms of the set of various fallacies, including propositional fallacies, quantificational fallacies, formal syllogistic fallacies, faulty generalizations, red herring fallacies.
As one example of an informal fallacy, the straw man argument merits special consideration. It is based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position such that a seemingly valid attack on it creates the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
It might usefully be asked whether "climate change" itself constitutes a straw man in that any apparent success in dealing with it merely creates the illusion of having dealt with a problem which is in fact engendered by dynamics not addressed by strategies against climate change.
Thinking "out-of-the-box" in the light of psychoanalysis: Given the variety of acknowledged sensitivities associated with climate change, especially to the extent that there is a degree of acknowledgement of the population dimension, it is appropriate to assume that any response cannot be solely framed in the light of rational considerations. In relation to the folktale at the beginning of this article, the assumption that needs to be questioned is that it is under the light of conventional thinking that any solution will be found. Whereas the circumstances are such that that it is more than probable that it is in the less well-lit domain of the collective unconscious that the "keys" to any remedy are to be found -- the institutional unconscious of the United Nations in the adaptation of the folktale, namely "We the Peoples".
There is a need for some form of psychoactive engagement with the challenge. The producer of the award winning documentary -- An Inconvenient Truth (2006), so significant for the climate change debate -- effectively acknowledged this in a subsequent presentation (Lawrence Bender, My Psychic Journey to Combat Global Warming) to the US National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (35th Conference Program, New York, 2007).
At that event, psychoanalyst Aaron Bender (Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Man-Made Global Warming, 2007) reflected upon individual and collective responses to global warming, arguing that psychoanalytic theory has much to offer in assessing whether humans are emotionally free to face up to this crisis and to take the necessary steps to avoid a human catastrophe. He notably considered the various conscious and unconscious defenses such as dissociation and denial as well as destructive aspects of borderline and narcissistic segments of the population. He saw such an exploration of psychic resistances as necessary in order to redirect human energies toward new life styles which could preserve the planet.
Related issues, introducing complexity theory to explore the mobilisation of affect via the internet in response to climate change, are under exploration by Joseph Dodds (Environmentalism and its Discontents: a 'cyber-psychoanalytic' approach to the phantasy of ecology and the ecology of phantasy, 2009). This recognizes the relevance of:
As founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, George Marshall (The Psychology of Climate Change: why do we find it so hard to take action, 2009) argues strongly that 'there is a profound disconnection between what we know and what we do about climate change'. He draws on key pieces of psychological and sociological research to argue that the lack of response to climate change is an explicable and predictable response to a problem that is challenging to moral values and world view. He sees a precedent in the collective denial of human rights abuses which provides strong lessons for how to communicate and engage with this problem. Marshall maintains a blog on climate change denial which explores the psychology of climate change denial. It seeks to respond to the question as to why, "when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?"
Such concerns may be seen in the context of ecological philosophy and ecological psychology and their implications for more appropriate engagement with sustainability (Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002).
Fundamental psychological significance of climate change: There is therefore a case for recognizing the possibly fundamental psychological, if not traumatic, significance of "climate change" in relation to any viable response to it, whether collectively or individually. "Climate change" can appropriately be seen from perspectives that do not figure in the conventional scientific debate -- but which may profoundly affect the attitudes of populations to it from perspectives such as:
Of particular interest is the possibility that the explicit preoccupations with "climate change" effectively disguise or conceal unconscious attitudes, especially given the associated challenges of denial and taboos (Varieties of the "Unsaid" -- in sustaining psycho-social community, 2003; Mark B. Borg, Jr: Psychoanalytic Pure War: interactions with the post-Apocalyptic unconscious). From a psychoanalytical perspective these would notably tend to be evident in the terms used explicitly with regard to "climate change" but having other implications -- namely through externalizing significance as a "safe" conventional way of handling deniable "inner" challenges and contradictions. There is a case for endeavouring to decode such linkages.
Potential implication of concept associations: One systemic approach is to use any of the semantic or concept maps (through which "climate change" can be explicitly articulated) as templates for an indicative understanding of the implicit pattern of associations. The fundamental relevance is that it is this pattern that may well be influencing, if not framing, the explicit pattern as argued previously (Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change: insights from metaphorical confusion, 2008; Climate Change as a Metaphor of Social Change: systemic implications of emissions, ozone, sunlight, greenhouse and overheating, 2008).
The latter paper pointed to the disparate sectors of society with an "emissions problem" -- suggesting a degree of systemic equivalence between them. It is the associations of a term such as "carbon emissions" which would naturally arouse the interest of psychoanalysts of the Freudian tradition. Given the argument above, it might be said that there is a supreme irony to the fact that it is the excessive "carbon emissions" at the origin of climate change that are in fact potentially analogous to the "emissions" associated with sexual reproduction and the rising population -- engendering climate change. Furthermore, most curiously, the real-estate bubble at the origin of the financial collapse of 2008 was built up to launder mortgage-based securities packages, thus providing the baseline of monetary and derived "financial emissions" for what was to become a hyperinflationary expansion of a physically contracting economy. In each such case, and in the light of inflated expectations, the population may be understood as "borrowing" greedily against the future -- and the generations expected to manage that debt.
The associations of "climate change" are potentially very "sexy", if only to the unconscious. Terms such as "global warming", "overheating", "inflation", "growth", "globalization" and "talking things up" may well have associations which condition consideration of "climate change" and its relation to "population". "Climate change" itself may be understood as the change of behavioural climate induced by sexuality. Such associations are even more curious when the terms feature in a debate in a "congress" or a "seminar", and when the "seminal" insights that emerge are cause for "dissemination". Any mapping exercise as proposed above would create a network of associations that could be fruitfully explored in this light -- if only to exclude the possibility of such implications.
Potentially more productive are the implications regarding the language of the most favoured approaches to prevention of climate change -- notably "cap and trade" strategies (otherwise known as "emissions trading"). In the context of the network of associations of the previous paragraph, the first term recalls the cervical cap preventing contraception, whereas the second recalls an abbreviation for the sex trade. Together "cap and trade" then suggests the degree of freedom first associated with contraceptive devices for women.
With respect to this term, as Director of the Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon, Bob Doppelt (The greatest failure of thought in human history: to solve climate change, we must overcome "systems blindness." Christian Science Monitor, 27 August 2008) argues that:
This conclusion accords with the argument made earlier, but his comment points to a form of possible blindness with respect to the relation between environmenal systems and the psychological systems through which they are apprehended and framed.
Ironically the widely accepted phrase "cap and trade", understood as a "message" from the collective unconscious, may indeed indicate the keys to the challenge of climate change:
Interpreted in this way, there is a further irony in that proposals for "cap and trade" are as likely to work as proposals for the use of contraceptives in many developing countries -- given the manner in which this has been challenged and dissemination has been blocked. Climate change, and current proposals to respond to it, thus constitute a metaphor for a form of systemic negligence. "Rising sea levels" is then to be understood as a potentially neglected "message" from the collective unconscious regarding rising population levels -- as suggested by the common phrase "rising tide of humanity". The construction of sea walls, inspired by the legendary King Canute, is then unlikely to be an adequate response (Paul Newby, Climate change, sea level, King Canute and the sacred flame, 2007; Coastal erosion: the wisdom of Canute, The Economist, 22 May 2008).
As argued on the occasion of Earth Summit 2002 (Johannesberg), engagement with psychological dimensions may be vital to the "embodiment" of the climate-change/population complex in a manner that enables new forms of response (My Reflecting Mirror World making my World Summit on Sustainable Development worthwhile, 2002). The cognitive challenge of embodiment has been recognized by various authors (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999).
Refocusing official documents by substitution of terms : If only as an exercise, there is much to be learnt from changing the focus of carefully constructed official documents by substition of thematic keywords regarding what is "most important" (a procedure well-known to consultants responding to new official calls for proposals). The following illustrate this simple process:
Playfulness and humour: As a means of engaging with people otherwise, notably in the case of the disaffected, these modalities may be variously used, as argued separately (Humour and Play-Fullness: essential integrative processes in governance, religion and transdisciplinarity, 2005):
Song and poetry: Given the importance of such media in different cultures across the world, there is a case for exploring how strategy could be articulated, communicated and justified through such means. Where is the "climate change song" and what would render it widely meaningful, given the nature of the engagement that people are called upon to make and the social coherence that is required to make a difference?
Systemic mapping of associations: As noted above, there is a case for elaborating a systemic map of objective issues around climate change and associating it with a second map indicating the subjective implications of the terms included. Whether treated as having serious psychological implications, or purely for mnemonic purposes, the key terms such as "carbon emissions" and "cap and trade" might be portrayed so as to evoke a second order of reflection -- especially with respect to "rising sea levels". Metaphor could prove a useful device in this respect, as separately explored (Opportunity: Reframing the problem of "overpopulation", 1995)
As currently conceived, the United Nations Climate Change Conference cannot be taken seriously, whether scientifically or politically. It is an exercise in denial promoted by a hope-mongering mindset -- now proven to be disastrously outmoded by the financial disaster of 2008 (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008). As such it is best to be observed attentively in terms of the processes associated with such denial. At a supposedly critical moment in the evolution of the global systems, and the requirement for more appropriately adequate strategies, it is best seen as its own metaphor.
Denial is a direct consequence of "polarized" debate, where one perspective is repressed and even demonised. Debate then necessarily becomes "polemical" -- as with the above argument -- at a time when there is a need to reframe dependence on framings that are not fit for purpose, as discussed separately (Coherent Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference, 2009).
Like it or not, deny it or not, the world population and its growth rate will be reduced to sustainable levels. In seeking to stigmatize "climate change denial" to justify mobilization of resources for the wrong strategic battle, this constitutes a denial of the future Holocaust likely to result from the consequences of overpopulation. In this sense the future may well rate the current "science of climate change" as being as systemically irresponsible as so-called scientific whaling.
Whilst climate change may be promoted as an "inconvenient truth", it is unfortunate that that inconvenient truth is being used as a fig leaf to disguise the even more inconvenient truth of population growth (An Inconvenient Truth -- about any inconvenient truth, 2008).
However, Gaia does not care -- as the "governor of last recourse". In the absence of appropriate responses to the challenge by humanity, climate change may then be Gaia's systemic solution rather than "the problem" -- as with the many shortages that will cause the death of millions. Such "restabilization" of the ecosystem will necessarily occur irrespective of global strategies -- or as a direct consequence of negligent strategies unable to mitigate the disasters. As stated by James Lovelock, "Enjoy life while you can" (2008). To which might be added for clarity: "You and your family may not make it -- nor your descendants".
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