Thursday, July 7, 2011

Storytelling and global warming

So - is the news media (especially that always-handy villain, Fox) to blame for public skepticism about global warming? Al Gore certainly thinks so, and said so with his typical length and vigor in a Rolling Stone essay. The bad guys are winning the war because the media, which should be refereeing this battle, are at best distracted or intimidated, and at worst, deliberately lying at the behest of - as he puts it - Polluters and Ideologues.

I don't think so. I think the reason many people doubt global warming (and many people who don't, including Gore and to a considerable extent me, behave personally as though it didn't exist, flying around the world, leaving their cable boxes running 24/7, and generally going about life very much the way they always have), is much simpler. We don't know how else to live. Though our carbon-heavy lifestyle is relatively new in the long scope of humanity's existence, it's the only one any of us have ever known.

What we need is not more facts, more argument, more convincing. What we need - as Julian Dobson, a self-described "urban pollinator" keeps saying - is better stories.

Unlike most of my green friends, I think Colin Beaver and his No Impact Man stunt, and all the other green stunt-ers out there, have done as much to hurt the cause as Fox. Because if this revolution demands that I cut stop watching TV, limit myself to staycations, and give up fresh orange juice because the oranges are shipped across the country, and then doesn't offer me anything appealing to replace all that, why should I bother? No revolution has succeeded by promising people that it will make their lives uglier, more deprived and more depressing than they are now. Who would want to buy into that story?

So the environmental groups and experts that UK blogger Mark Brown calls the Green Ghetto talk to themselves, and wonder why nobody else is listening. Brown - about whom I know nothing except that he's involved in Transition High Wycombe - argues that the people that other people do listen to are their neighbors, the people they meet at the pub, on the High Street, at at the school fete and the car boot sale.

And I am convinced that their message can take hold only if they're spreading it, not out of fear of the grim future that awaits if we don't change, but because they're living in a story that excites them, one that offers challenge, satisfaction and a whole lot of fun.

I'm not surprised that Brown (who I hope is going to the Transition Conference in Liverpool this weekend, so that maybe I'll meet him) is active in Transition, because more than any other group I'm aware of, Transition captures this sense of excitement and even playfulness.

I spend a good deal of time in Totnes, Devon, which a New York friend calls (accurately) the "mother ship" of the Transition movement. Transition is inspiring some big changes here: a new cooperative is planning half a dozen local and sustainable energy projects, from wind farms to biogas.

But possibly its most characteristic project is very simple. Groups of neighbors get together to go through a workbook of simple energy-saving tools. That's it. But these groups have come up with all kinds of ways to change their lives. One group set up a community cinema, and recently got a grant so that it can stop using a borrowed projector and buy its own. Others have started sharing cars, tools, and child-care time.

Last weekend, the Transition Together organizers invited town residents to a coffee morning at the Civic Hall, with snacks, and entertainment for the kids, and a bike-powered blender to make smoothies. (They weren't very smooth, because the contraption wasn't really producing the power the blender needed, but kids were peddling away madly nonetheless.) Members of different Transition Together groups got up to talk about their experience. What they all said, in one way or another, was "I got to know my neighbors."

So there's one story: a life where we have a chance to get to know our neighbors. What other stories are out there?

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