Sunday 6 May 2007

Those inconvenient truths

Reports are released that focus on climate change and its effects. They trigger conferences around the world which even politicians find now inadvisable to miss. The findings filter into the mass media in the form of articles and documentaries. Industry is gearing up for a change to alternative energy sources.

Does that mean we are getting prepared for the tasks ahead? Well, yes and no.

Let's look at the issue under the sociological perspective. The increasing complexity of Western society has given us science and technology and its products. Those products are the cause of the current problems, but they are also the result of an evolving sophistication of our behaviour. Science cannot prosper unless the people involved have the opportunity to research and present their findings. Industry cannot make use of their findings unless there exist the skill base and infrastructure to implement the necessary processes. And pervading all this is the general atmosphere of convivial standards, from a democratic governance with its separation of powers, church and state, to a judiciary that presumes innocence until proven guilty, and to a general acceptance of human rights regardless of one's personal background. This means if you're gay you are not imprisoned or are given electric shocks, it means as a woman you are not judged by the number of children you have or by your matrimonial status, and you can walk down the street without being attacked for your choice of clothes.

Every level of achievement carries its own costs, but it is a measure of maturity whether those costs can be addressed rationally or under a cloud of superstition and fear.

The prospects of such issues as climate change, peak oil, and pandemics confront us with a scale and profundity that surpass anything our past has presented so far. We cannot refer to practise runs in our history. If the combinatorial effect of all those features mentioned earlier has made our current quality of life possible, then any flaws (and they do exist) were not sufficient to prevent the obvious rise. But as in any system that is less than ideal, its shortcomings are sure to show once the pressure builds. It is at that stage that its true quality becomes apparent.

An issue of global proportion invites, no, necessitates the recognition of those demographics which are best suited for coming up with the solution. We are back at the overall standards that either allow or not allow the required actions to be taken.

It stands to reason therefore that a culture - meant in the widest possible sense - has the duty not only to preserve its current quality but to engage in measures that correct any shortcomings so that it may be that much better positioned for what is to come.

Although in the West we are becoming aware of the looming dangers, we are less open to the prerequisites for being adequately prepared. For example, how does the rise of Christian fundamentalism enable our collective minds to think rationally about our fate? How does the infusion of Islam with its medieval morals preserve our current human rights, achieved with so much pain? How does the transfusion of so many energies into inadequate demographics, bordering almost on obsession, secure our own readiness for the future - a transfusion which is often undertaken without the slightest regard for the societal conditions at the target?

Suppose in due course the West suffers a resource shortfall so that its present standards become untenable - which demographic can take its place? Such an event does not make the crisis disappear, it makes it worse.

No matter who we are, our actions are never completely bereft of emotion. But these celebrated commitments are only given the opportunity to be celebrated eventually had the accompanying actions been the correct ones to begin with. Unguarded emotion let loose with knee-jerk reactions destroys, and there is no happy ending where history gets duly inscribed. Libraries are not made of ruins.

There are more inconvenient truths than meet the moist eye.

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