Well into the Twentieth Century the slate industry of North Wales was the world’s largest. It roofed the buildings of the world and left a huge scar on the beautiful landscape of what is now the Snowdonia National Park. But that’s not all it left. If you visit Yr Amgueddfa Llechi Cymru – the National Slate Museum – outside the village of Llanberis you can tour the old buildings of the slate quarries, including the infirmary. One of the human legacies of the industry was to bequeath workers, especially slate-splitters, with chronic and fatal respiratory illness from breathing in the slate dust created from dressing the raw material and turning it into usable roof slates. In oral accounts you can hear at the museum workers describe how the air in the slate dressing buildings was thick with dust. On the wall of the infirmary is a row of certificates signed by medical doctors. These documents certify that not only is slate dust not the cause of respiratory illness, it is actually promotes good health. If you ever happen to be visiting North Wales, go and have a look.
My forebears worked in the Dinorwic quarries near Llanberis and so there is a family, if not a personal reason to feel a little affronted by the lie perpetrated by people who could have known and almost certainly did know better. The lie they told on the walls of the infirmary and in their supposedly professional diagnoses condemned many, many people to a slow and painful death. Slate dust was not safe. It was obviously not safe. Anyone who worked in it could have known and did know that. And yet profit was to be made by avoiding and denying the obvious.
These days we like to think health and safety has come a long way. In some ways it certainly has. It’s improved a lot since the time my great great uncle fell and was injured on the quarry face, only to be charged by the company for delaying production. But when I look at the climate change denial industry, I realise in truth we’ve barely moved forward. Continue reading “Warmer is better!”→
Mike Hulme, author of the splendid Why We Disagree about Climate Change, has written a very measured op-ed about the theft of his emails from the University of East Anglia and the relationship between science and politics in the climate change debate.
Fourcultures has previously written about:
Mike Hulme’s book, Why we Disagree about Climate Change
a critique of the idea that climate change deniers are necessarily acting in bad faith
In his foreword to a recent collection on the social construction of climate change, Nicholas Onuf writes:
‘As a social constructon, climate change is no one thing. Instead it is an ensemble of constitutive processes, yielding an ever changing panoply of agents and insitutions, fixed in place only for the moment.’ Mary E Pettenger (ed) 2007:xv
Yet in the arguments about climate change, the subject of the arguments is often taken as a given. We forget that just as the carbon dioxide emissions are of human origin, so is the very concept.
Now Prof Mike Hulme, founder of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has written a book about climate change as a social, cultural, political, religious and ethical phenomenon,rather than a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’. In doing so he has drawn deeply from the well of Cultural Theory. The book refers repeatedly to the writings of Mary Douglas (especially Douglas and Wildavsky 1984), Michael Thompson (particularly Verweij and Thompson 2006) and numerous other cultural theorists, and has a Foreword by Steve Rayner. The book is much too stimulating and multi-faceted to summarise here, but in terms of policy implications the auther promotes Rayner’s idea of the need for ‘silver buckshot’ rather than ‘silver bullets’, and Verweij and Thompson’s idea of ‘clumsy solutions’ rather than elegant failures.
Why we Disagree about Climate Change is a timely, wide ranging thoughtful and challenging contribution to the climate change debate. I think it will also stand as a highly accessible landmark text of ‘applied Cultural Theory’, much as Christopher Hood’s 1998 book on public management did a decade ago. A review will follow.
A thoughtful review by Graham Strouts of David Holmgren’s new book, Future Scenarios appears at his website, Zone 5.
This provides an interesting angle on the predeliction of Egalitarian thinkers to foreground the need for a ‘reorientation of spiritual values’ or a ‘fundamental change of paradigm’. Note that while Holmgren himself is clear that under certain scenarios such social changes are essential, not every Egalitarian is in agreement. One of the issues with advocating a return to spirituality is the question, Which spirituality? Continue reading “Do Egalitarians need Spirituality?”→
Let’s get this straight. Climate change ‘deniers’ are (mostly) not being malicious. They genuinely believe what they are saying, just like climate change ‘believers’ do. The assumption of bad faith is entirely unhelpful.
“But how can it possibly be that in the face of all the evidence people still won’t face the truth of climate change?” That’s one way of looking at it, but it depends on a mono-rational view of the world which is contested by grid-group cultural theory. A more nuanced analysis suggests that there are four, not one or two ways of organising institutions, from families to global treaties, and what counts as evidence for one cultural bias will never count as evidence for another.
So, Egalitarian environmentalists who want to promote their own view would do well to take seriously the contesting claims of Individualism, Hierarchy and Fatalism. These are not merely arguments about the evidence but deeper arguments about rationality itself.
The Murdoch rearguard action against climate change science just won’t die, although these days it tends to be confined to the opinion section of the newspapers, rather than counting as ‘news’. In today’s Sydney Telegraph, columnist Piers Ackerman gives another outing to his argument that climate change is natural (and, since you ask, probably isn’t happening anyway). He blames the state-run ABC media and the Fairfax press for perpetuating the myth. Which is slightly ironic, since in today’s Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax owned) columnist Miranda Devine writes almost the same article excoriating the ‘church’ of climate change ‘fundamentalists’ and promoting the same climate sceptic, who happens to have a new book out this month, Adelaide University professor Ian Plimer.
Paralleling Devine’s use of religious metaphor, Ackerman sees climate change as a kind of ‘religion’, which is not to be questioned, and has its own orthodoxy and its own high priest in Al Gore.
This is hardly a new line of argument, and it still doesn’t look like dying away any time soon, so what’s going on here?
A recent article about business responses to global warming highlights the extent to which hierarchical thinking can respond adequately to rapid changes in the climate.
And it neatly illustrates the preoccupations of a hierarchical world-view, as understood by grid-group cultural theory.
The article, written by Leon Gettler, centres on the increasing role of ‘Chief Carbon Officer’ in businesses.
‘The job of the future will be the chief carbon officer, or CCO. That’s because global warming is no longer an environmental issue.’
The author sees not only the CCO, but also new job titles like Director of Sustainability Strategy as ‘just the beginning’.
According to grid-group cultural theory, first established by anthropologist Mary Douglas, and expanded by numerous writers in several different disciplines, there are four fundamental world-views, related to social group strength and rule maintenance. The hierarchist position is ‘strong grid, strong group’. In other words it is both highly group-orientated and highly regulated. For this way of thinking, the crisis (any crisis) is less about external factors and more about who is in charge, and how the social structure is to be maintained. Continue reading “Can hierarchical thinking fix climate change?”→
British Journalist George Monbiot has been writing a number of pieces about a TV ‘documentary’ which supposedly tried to debunk climate change by doctoring statistics and misrepresenting interviewees. Certainly it was one of the most mendacious things I’ve seen on TV, right up there with ads for shampoo that cures dandruff. Monbiot seems to think this kind of thing plays well because, as he puts it,
“We want to be misled, we crave it; and we will bend our minds into whatever shape they need to take in order not to face our brutal truths”.
I think he’s completely wrong on this. We are not self-deceiving in this way, and we are not living in ‘the age of stupid‘ as a film with a similar theory put it (although I look forward to seeing the movie). Well, not with global warming, anyway. Dandruff may be another matter. I’ll explain.