24 June 2009
United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference
exploring the underside of climate change
- / -
Written on the occasion of an announcement by the FAO of
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:
- Questionable asystemic promotion of strategies against "climate
- "climate change" as the "most important problem
- "climate change" as
a surrogate for avoidance of other issues and more comprehensive debate
- Questionable use of the best of scientific method in relation
to "climate change":
- scientific research "nested" within an
- promotion of "consensus" on "climate change" by
- reliance on modelling methodology (recently
demonstrated to increase global vulnerability disastrously)
- Questionable exploitation of faith-based behaviour patterns
of organized belief systems (notably ideologies and religions):
- identifying "unbelief" and
"denial" to stigmatize critics of "climate change"
- failure to consider issues conflicting with predetermined ideological
or religious dogma
- failure to identify issues which it is too problematic
to recognize and discuss
- institutionalization of double standards with
respect to suffering
- Problematic failure to reflect on strategic development
in the light of past experience:
- challenges of broken promises and commitments, disguised by tokenism
- abuse of faith in governance
- lack of the political will to change
- lack of political courage to consider alternatives
- Problematic progressive focus on unproven geoengineering
options as offering the most viable solution
- Overpopulation denial: failure to consider progressive
implications of overpopulation
Developing a healthy pattern of argumentation
Climate change and overpopulation as cultural challenges
- dialogue, argument and issue mapping
- polyhedral configuration of envisaged initiatives
- application of critical thinking to detect fallacious argument
Possibility of rapid reframing for an appropriate
shift in focus
- thinking "out-of-the-box in the light of psychoanalysis
- fundamental psychological significance of climate change
- potential implication of concept associations
- refocusing official documents by substitution
- playfulness and humour
- song and poetry
- systemic mapping of associations
The argument might fruitfully be summarized by the following
folktale and its adaptation.
|A caricature of
the United Nations Climate Change Conference
including the 15th Conference
of the Parties to the
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Under the Lamp
A folktale associated with
a legendary figure, claimed over centuries
by the nations of the
Near, Middle East and Central Asia
for Solutions to Climate Change
in the Light of Conventional Thinking
A folktale of the future associated with the
a legendary body of the 21st century,
acclaimed by the nations of the world
Nasreddin is frantically
searching for something at night under the light of a lamp post in
the dusty street outside his home domain. A kind neighbour comes by
and asks, "Mulla, what have you lost?" Nasreddin replies, "I
have lost my keys."
The neighbour gets down on his hands and knees and begins to search
with Nasreddin through the dust. After a long time, the neighbour
says to Nasreddin, "Mulla, are you certain you lost your keys
here in the street?"
"Oh no!" says Nasreddin, "I lost them in the house."
"If you lost them in the house," says the neighbour, "then
why are we looking for them under this lamp post?"
"The light is better here," Nasreddin replies
The UN is frantically
searching for something in the obscurity of global policy-making, just
outside its domain, in the light of conventional thinking . A concerned
citizen comes by and asks, "UN, what have you lost?" The
UN replies, "I have lost the keys to global climate change."
The citizen gets down on his hands and knees and begins to search
with the UN through the conventional dust. After a long time, the
citizen says to the UN, "UN, are you certain you lost the keys
here in the street?"
"Oh no!" says the UN, "I lost them within my domain."
"If you lost them within your domain," says the citizen, "then
why are we looking for them outside in the light of conventional thinking?"
"The light is better here," the UN replies
|On the quest to reduce "carbon emissions", efforts
to reduce the "smoke" might appropriately extend -- for a professional
firefighter -- to determining the nature and location of the "fire" from
which it derives, who is stoking it, by whom it is repeatedly relit,
who is systematically avoiding such questions, and why.
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.
|Indicative counts of unfiltered hits
from Google searches (on 18 June 2009)
to determine the degree to which the "population" factor is currently
(results given for all hits and those restricted to the official UN
Conference Climate Change conference website)
|"climate change" + "population"
||"global warming" + "population"
|"climate change" + "overpopulation"
||"global warming" + "overpopulation"
|"climate change" + "human activity"
||"global warming " + "human activity"
|"climate change" + "family planning"
||"global warming" + "family planning"
|"climate change" + demograph(ics)
||"global warming" + demography(ics)
|"climate change" + "shortage"
||"global warming" + "shortage"
|"overpopulation" + "shortage"
||"climate change denial"
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).
|Use of Google
[NB: Results are merely indicative and unfiltered.
A term like "overpopulation"
may, for example, be inflated by
searches relating to overpopulation of pets or wild animals.
is no implication here that the search terms specified originally appeared
in the same search].
|Trend A: with search string: "global
This serves to indicate the relative interest in the terms
|Trend B: with search string: "United
This serves to indicate the decreasing interest in the "United Nations"
to the increasing interest in "climate change" (without including "global
|Trend C: with search string: "global
change","family planning","population control"
This serves to indicate the relative lack of interest in
(without including contraception, etc) relative to the interest in climate
|Trend D: with search string: "overpopulation","shortages","shortage"
This serves to indicate the relative lack of interest in
relative to the challenge of "shortages"
1. Questionable asystemic promotion of strategies against "climate
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
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
"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
In the commentary of the World
Problems Project on 22 Approaches
this mindset was described as the "Key" or "Log-jam" approach:
With this approach,
the emphasis is on finding the "key" problem or focusing on it (once the assumption
has been made that it has been found). The implication is that through the "key" problem
a way forward can be opened. This conceptual dependence on the existence of
a single factor or "handle", necessarily ignores other factors as irrelevant.
It can perhaps be better illustrated by a "log-jam", as a complex of problems,
in which appropriate strategy is the search by experts for the key logs which
need to be moved in order to release the whole pile of logs to flow down-river.
This mindset implies reliance on expert analysis and application of optimal
force at a precise location. Any action on logs viewed as non-key is disparaged
as irrelevant, if not counter-productive and dangerous.
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
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:
of abandoned approaches to world governance
of single-factor policy-making
threats: past experiments
Peril", "Red Peril", "Green Peril", "Blue
Peril", "Brown Peril", "White Peril", Racial
degeneration, Infidels and unbelievers, "Jewish
Conspiracy", Secret elites, Invaders, "Rogue States", Mass
destruction, Epidemics, Y2K crisis, Internationalism)
threats: terrorism as threat of the moment
threats: provisions for the future
of global social issues
from personal strategic analogues
for viable alternatives
The questions that are carefully avoided include:
- what other challenges are avoided
by promoting the need to give highest priority to "climate change"?
- to what extent do any of these challenges exacerbate the challenge of "climate
change", especially if they are neglected?
- does the focus on any of these other problems offer any strategic advantages
over the narrow focus on "climate change" -- especially in terms of feasibility?
"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
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,
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
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:
Never before has the world's attention been so acutely focused on
the changing global economy and the environment. Over the last couple of
years we have seen a growing sense of urgency over the environment and climate
change. Even more recently global attention has become occupied with the
world crises in food, fuel and financing. Amid all of this attention, the
media spotlight on global population has snapped back on in a way we haven't
seen in some decades. It dimmed when concerns about 'overpopulation' last
went out of fashion, but those concerns may now be getting a new lease of
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.
2. Questionable use of the best of scientific method in relation
to "climate change"
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
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:
- framing the phenomena investigated in terms of "climate
change" to avoid prejudging their significance
- avoiding reference to the nature of any "human activity" exacerbating
it, other than in terms of "carbon emissions"
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
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
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
Projection Results based on multiple scenarios, optimistic and pessimistic
(Wolfgang Lutz Ed.),
Future Population of the World: what can we assume today?
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
consequences" that can be assiduously treated on the assumption
that the "upstream
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
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
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:
The majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is primarily
caused by human activities such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation..
The conclusion that global warming is mainly caused by human activity and
will continue if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced has been endorsed
by more than 50 scientific societies and academies of science, including
all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries.
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
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
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:
- the focus of climate change models on what are essentially subsystems,
or should at least be clearly recognized as failing to identify excluded
factors assumed to be irrelevant to the study of climate change?
- the development of global strategies based on modelling assumptions regarding
the stabilization of population growth, notably in the light of its possible
future impact on global warming, irrespective of any immediate efforts
to control "carbon emissions"?
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).
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).
3. Questionable exploitation of faith-based behaviour patterns
of organized belief systems
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
- Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom,
either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to
manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
- Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to
seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless
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:
the position of governments, political
parties, business groups, interest groups, or individuals who reject
propositions on which a scientific
or scholarly consensus exists. Such groups and individuals are said
to be engaging in denialism when they seek to influence policy processes
and outcomes by using rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument
or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. The term was first
used in the sense of 'holocaust
denialism', but the usage has broadened to include 'AIDS
change denialism' and
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
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,
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
activity" disguised by the accepted manifestation of "fossil
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
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:
- a viable global society is only sustainable through growth in population
numbers; the size of the global market needs to continue to increase in
order to sustain growth potential, although it is inappropriate to compare
this requirement for "marketing fodder" with the earlier requirement
- the dynamics of growth dependence cannot legitimately be compared
with those of a global Ponzi
scheme and its vulnerability to collapse (despite
experiences such as the crisis of 2008 and its ongoing consequences in
which such schemes have become apparent on a smaller scale)
- the number of people employed needs to continue to increase in order
- social security commitments and avoid social unrest
- repayment through taxation of the unprecedented level of public debt
incurred by governments, most notably through the bailout/stimulus
financial packages in response to the financial crisis of 2008
- human reproduction is an inalienable human right that should not be
constrained by economic considerations, and it is the responsbility of society
to deal with the consequence of the numbers of engendered
- political contexts characterized by intractable questions of political
control by one culture or another are best left to longer-term competitive
- reproduction at a maximum rate is an obligation for members of certain
religious communities in fulfilment of religious injunctions
- irrespective of any other consideration, sexual reproduction cannot
be effectively curtailed or subject to any form evaluation of capacity
to care for the outcome. Other than possible assessments of appropriateness
of marriage, no other form of "licence" to reproduce
can be effectively imposed (Article 16 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights
euphemistically stipulates the unconditional right to "found a family",
with no indication as to "how high the walls can be built", or the stability
of the "foundations")
- political discussion of curtailment of population growth is tantamount
to political suicide
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
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.
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
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:
- attitudes towards capital
punishment, rated inhumane and totally unacceptable
in many countries -- irrespective of the justifications for it that are
advanced in other countries
- attitudes towards euthanasia,
rated totally unacceptable in most countries, to the point of criminalizing
those who incite or enable such practices -- irrespective of the level
of suffering inducing people to seek such relief, or of any expressed wishes
they may have defined in a "living will"
- attitudes towards disinclination to continue living, notably on the
part of the elderly
- highly controversial attitudes towards contraception as inhibiting birth
and towards abortion following
contraception -- to the point of tacit approval of anti-abortion
violence against those providing such facilities, even to the
point of encouraging such violence
- active or tacit approval of suicide
bombing -- irrespective of any collateral
impact on others.
- controversial attitudes to extreme
risk-taking in sports, to the point
of prohibiting such activities, otherwise extolled as exemplifying courage
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:
- the World Medical Association has been obliged to take note of the degree
to which as a professional body it has turned a blind eye to the fact that
some medical professionals are associated with interrogation processes
that may be appropriately described as torture. The situation is especially
sensitive because the president is currently an Israeli. Controversially
the justification advanced includes arguments that such processes do not
constitute "torture". (Sarah Boseley, Doctor's
leader faces revolt over 'torture collusion', The
22 June 2009)
- senior physicians in the UK have expressed concern at the number of citizens
suffering from non-fatal illnesses who have sought to use an assisted
suicide service in Switzerland (Denis Campell, Doctors
challenge suicide clinic over the patients who could have lived 'for decades', The
22 June 2009). Whilst accepting that many experience great suffering
and misery, it is asserted that "many of the conditions outlined are
conditions patients live with for many years and continue to have productive
and meaningful lives". And that: "To go off and commit suicide
simply on the basis of these conditions would be premature and unreasonable".
Such arguments are patronising in the extreme. It is unclear what qualifies
members of the medical profession to define a "meaningful life" when
the person is privileged to experience the conditions otherwise. "Meaningful" is
not a measureable symptom, nor does it appear in any medical lexicon. It
is indeed a fact that millions live their whole lives under miserable conditions
of health. As patients awaiting treatment for decades, they are extremely
patient. Whether their desire to terminate this experience should be judged
and unreasonable" by physicians has yet to be resolved.
These examples indicate the twisted logic of the complicity of physicians
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.
4. Problematic failure to reflect on strategic development in the light
of past experience
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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 --
complex of which Dwight
Eisenhower famously warned (Farewell
1961). Of extreme concern is how science's role of cognitive handmaiden
may evolve in future society -- as famously suggested by Margaret
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.
6. Overpopulation denial: failure to consider progressive
implications of overpopulation
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:
The idea that 'climate change denial' is a psychological disorder - the
product of a spiteful, wilful or simply in-built neural inability to face
up to the catastrophe of global warming - is becoming more and more
popular amongst green-leaning activists and academics. And nothing better
sums up the elitism and authoritarianism of the environmentalist lobby than
its psychologisation of dissent. The labelling of any criticism of the politics
of global warming, first as 'denial', and now as evidence of
mass psychological instability, is an attempt to write off all critics
and sceptics as deranged, and to lay the ground for inevitable authoritarian
solutions to the problem of climate change. Historically, only the most
illiberal and misanthropic regimes have treated disagreement and debate
as signs of mental ill-health.
Ironically and paradoxically, every constituency's favourite challenge enables
those who fail to recognize its importance to be framed as in denial -- even
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
Against this background of ignorance highly emotional feelings have been
introduced about migration, race, abortion and other population issues
which have little bearing on the issue of environmental sustainability;
this makes it almost impossible to conduct a rational and humane discussion
about what is at stake and to think about solutions. Environmental organisations
have steered clear of difficult issues to avoid offending their members,
and have become preoccupied instead with the popular issues of poverty,
social justice and human rights. The media has been short of population
research and proposals to report on, and those organisations willing
to produce evidence and uncomfortable conclusions have been easy to demonise
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:
The population debate is polarized between the view that population is
the root cause of our problems, from global warming to environmental destruction,
versus the view that human numbers pose no problem at all. Overpopulation
denial stems from the fear that human rights would be trampled by a top-own
population control and that it would distract us from 'more pressing' social
justice and economic issues. This polarization is keeping either side from
developing an appreciation for the other's point of view. We may
have to get past our Malthusian versus human rights logjam to develop a
working holistic solution.
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
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
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)
The two constraints that are most significantly ignored are
the unchecked population explosion and the ability of the environment
to continue to tolerate the stress of increasing human activity.
Incredibly, the rise in population is treated as a given, inviting
no condemnation or the need for counter-measures -- it is merely
a "collective challenge of monumental proportions" (p.104). The
consequence to the environment is not treated as of significance.
The profound irresponsibility and unconstrained selfishness of
humanity is not acknowledged. They are reframed as a legitimate
In this light there is an unfortunately sinister double meaning
to the foreword by the Director-General of UNESCO which recognizes
the principal strength of the report as having "put people first" (p.
ix) by helping "to promote the idea of human-centred development" (p.
x). The report itself affirms that the "greatest achievement of the twentieth
century has been the growing recognition of the pre-eminent value of the
human being" (p.
187). The "most cherished of purposes" is stated to be "preserving human
lives" (p. 104).
Put bluntly, the solution to the challenge of feeding an ever-increasing
number of people is seen to be simply one of producing more food. The dilemma
of how to constrain population increase is not addressed. Putting "people
first" also means, in this context, that the environment must necessarily
be sacrificed for that "most cherished of purposes".
Presumably the approach would be the same at any time in the future, whatever
the population level. It is claimed that whatever the degree of challenge,
the human spirit has the opportunity to triumph. As stated in one of the
other key ideas: "Human beings are our most creative, productive and precious
resource. Human capacity increases the more it is drawn upon. It can never
be exhausted. Developing the human resource should be the centrepiece of
all development strategy" (p. 27). Is there no level of population at which
this, otherwise admirable, view might appear tragically misguided and subject
to misinterpretation? Just as sculpturers work with material constraints,
rather than against them, in giving form to their vision, so should those
engaged in grand strategy -- or find that the constraints they ignore impose
their own corrective measures for such inattentiveness.
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".
It is now somewhat ironic to note the number
of major problem areas in which catastrophic consequences are envisaged,
many framed as "shortages" (of food, water, land, commodities, etc). There
is seldom more than a passing mention, if any, of the manner in which such "shortages" are
directly engendered by explosive growth in population. As remarked above,
it is noteworthy that such growth was confidently predicted to stabilize
naturally in the near future -- by the economists most complicit in sustaining
faith in the financial system prior to its collapse in 2008. Had numbers
been lower, and not been increasing, "shortages" would not be arising.
"Shortage" has become a politically correct euphemism to avoid reference
to the inconvenient truth about exploding population growth -- which rapidly
negates any short-term success in dealing with such 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).
7. Developing a healthy pattern of argumentation
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:
- a semantic network,
namely a network representing semantic relations
between the concepts,
possibly according to the notational logic used for conceptual
- a concept map showing
graphically the relationships among concepts
- a mind map representing
words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central
key word or idea.
- an argument map as
a visual representation of the structure of the associated arguments such
as a main contention, premises, co-premises, objections, and rebuttals
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
Application of critical thinking to detect fallacious
argument: Such argument mapping exercises facilitate the highlighting
of inappropriate arguments on which the methods of critical
focus. It would be useful to test arguments relating to proposed climate change
initiatives in terms of the set of various fallacies, including propositional
syllogistic fallacies, faulty
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.
8. Climate change and overpopulation as cultural
challenges of reflexivity
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
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
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
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:
the psychoanalysis of climate change utilizing
concepts from group analysis, psychoanalysis, systems psychodynamics (Gould,
Stapley and Stein 2006), ecology, and complexity theory (Camazine et al.
2001; Bonabeua et al. 1999). The relevance of applying existing analytic
theories to the environmental crisis is explored including some specific
interventions (Zizek 2006, 2008; Winter and Koger 2003; Morton 2007; Mishan
1996; Bateson 2002), along with the application of ecology and complexity
theory to psychoanalysis (Palombo 1999, Marks- Tarlow 2008) and social
systems (Stacey 2006; DeLanda 2006). This dual approach (a psychoanalysis
of ecology and an ecology of psychoanalysis) is applied empirically in
a cyberethnographic study of the social phantasy systems, anxieties, and
group dynamics of virtual communities around the issue of climate change,
making use of Weinberg's (2006) work on virtual groups and the 'internet
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,
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:
- culture and symbolic issues, notably in the event of geoengineering initiatives
that may modify engagement with nature
- effects of weather and weather cycles on temperament, in addition to
their symbolic significance
- unexplored implications in relation to the collective unconscious
- environmental psychology (cf Joseph Reser, Environmental
Psychology: an endangered species? Australian Psychological Society,
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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:
"Cap and trade" is the rage today as a primary solution to global
warming. But the European Union's struggle with this approach indicates
it has an uncertain future. This is because global warming, at its core,
is not a technology or policy problem. It is the greatest failure of thought
in human history. Attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will fail
unless people first alter their thinking and behavior. Earth is warming
because humans, primarily in industrialized nations, suffer from systems
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:
- "cap" may point to the need for a form of constraint on reproduction
- "trade" may point to the need to give form to a new mode mode
of productive interaction -- of which initiatives such as local
exchange trading systems (LETS) may be one precursor
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
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
In The Flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, 1999).
9. Possibility of rapid reframing for an
appropriate shift in focus
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?
- the case has been explored with regard to A
Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? (2006).
What difference would it have made to the Earth Summit's Agenda
had it been singable and therefore memorable? What difference would it make
to the outcome of Copenhagen (2009) if it were to be singable? Who excludes
consideration of such low cost options?
- given the cultures for which poetry is deeply meaningful, the strategic
merits of exploring a memorable (even epic) poetic articulation of the
intractable challenges of climate change merit consideration. The case
has been separately made with respect to an earlier "battle for hearts
- the conventional strategic mindset, caricatured in the case of "development",
might also be fruitfully reframed in poetic form (Sets
and their Settings: from development to climate change... and beyond,
Systemic mapping of associations: As noted above, there
is a case for elaborating a systemic map of objective
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
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
Value Frameworks: pillar-ization, polarization and polyhedral frames of reference,
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
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
life while you can" (2008). To which might be added for clarity: "You
and your family may not make it -- nor your descendants".
and population growth: the topic politicians won't
Tom Levitt, Ecologist, 15 September 2009
|According to the UN, population growth is a driving force behind emission
increases yet it will not be on the agenda at any of the upcoming climate
talks. World population has doubled to more than 6 billion in the past
50 years. It's expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The population
of the USA is projected to rise from 300 million to more than 400 million
by 2050. But most of the population growth will be in poorer countries,
such as Africa and the Indian subcontinent, whose CO2 emissions per capita
are relatively small - 20 or more times less than the USA. Given
the gulf in carbon emissions per capita it is hardly surprising that
few politicians or environmental groups want to raise the issue.
|The 'human' factor
is missing in Copenhagen
Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe, 11 December 2009
An odd fatalism about population growth has settled
in since 2007, when the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change declared
the subject virtually untouchable. The 'scope
and legitimacy of population control,'' they
warned, were still 'subject to ongoing debate.''....
Kathleen Mogelgaard, who works on population and climate change for Population
Action International, believes, 'The beautiful thing about making
this linkage is that so much of this (environmental debate) is about telling
people what they cannot do. They cannot cut down forests or consume fossil
fuels. This is one way to address the challenge by giving them what they
As the UNFPA's Thoraya Obaid says, 'There is no investment
in development that costs so little and brings benefits that are so far-reaching
In Copenhagen, talk is centered on technological fixes and political
trade-offs. Responses are crafted by scientists, governments, meteorologists,
finance experts. The silence on population is rooted in the belief that
the human problem is the most intractable. But maybe it isn't.
|Global Population Reduction:
Confronting the Inevitable
by J. Kenneth Smail, World Watch Magazine, September/October
|Looking past the near-term concerns that have plagued
population policy at the political level, it is increasingly apparent
that the long-term sustainability of civilization will require not
just a leveling-off of human numbers as projected over the coming half-century,
but a colossal reduction in both population and consumption.
|Longages and Overpopulation Predictions
Video Interview with Garrett
|Everything that can be viewed as a shortage can equally
well be viewed as a longage. When people complain of shortages, say:
"what you really mean is that you have a longage of people -- now why
don't you look at that side of the problem first?"
one cannot speak, thereof one must pass over in silence ?
Mark B. Borg, Jr. Psychoanalytic
Pure War: Interactions with the Post-Apocalyptic Unconscious. Journal
for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, 2008, 8 [text]
Karen A. Cerulo. Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning
the worst. University of Chicago Press, 2006
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 [text]
John L. Farrands. Don't Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create
fear. Melbourne, Text Publishing, 1993
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. IIASA Population
Projection Results [text]
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Philosophy In The Flesh: the embodied mind
and its challenge to western thought. Basic Books, 1999
- The Revenge of Gaia: why the Earth is fighting back - and
how we can still save humanity. Penguin, 2007
- The Vanishing Face of Gaia: a final warning. Allen Lane, 2009
Wolfgang Lutz, Warren Sandersen and Sergei Scherbov (Eds)
. The End of World Population Growth in the 21st Century: New Challenges for
Human Capital Formation and Sustainable Development. Earthscan Publications,
George Marshall. The Psychology of Climate Change: why do
we find it so hard to take action. Climate Outreach and Information Network,
Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens
III. The Limits to Growth. Universe Books, 1972
Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen
Randers and Dennis L. Meadows. Limits to Growth: the 30-year update. Chelsea
Joseph Mishan. Psychoanalysis
and Environmentalism: first thoughts. Psychoanalytic
Volume 10, Number 1, 1996, pp. 59-70(12) [abstract]
Naomi Oreskes. Beyond the Ivory Tower: the scientific consensus on climate
change. Science, 3 December 2004, 306, 5702, p. 1686 [text]
Theodore Roszak. Awakening the Ecological Unconscious. 1993 [text]
Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable.
Random House, 2007 [reviews].
James M. Taylor. U.N. Study Ends Overpopulation Fears. Environment and Climate
Pablo Triana. Lecturing Birds on Flying: can mathematical theories destroy
the financial markets? Wiley, 2009
Graham Turner. A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of
Reality. CSIRO 2007 [text]
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA):
- The State of World Population:
unleashing the potential of urban growth. 2007 [text]
- The State of World Population: culture, gender and human rights. 2008
David Uzzell. Challenging Assumptions in the Psychology of Climate Change.
Australian Psychological Society, 2008 [text]