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Change and those who try to oppose it

January 18, 2010

History is littered with the corpses of people who tried to prevent change. Tomorrow’s issues were perceived as a threat because change represents the unknown, and often the unknowable. It isn’t hard to understand this, because we are creatures of habit. We live in a natural world that has no compassion or pity. As individuals, we are helpless, frail and rather unimportant, and if that wasn’t insult enough to our egos, we are also mortal. The clock is always ticking and there is no appeal, no mitigation, nothing worth denying about the probability of death. So it isn’t unreasonable that we want stability, a sense of security and permanence, even if we know in our hearts that we subscribe to a convenient illusion, for change cannot be prevented any more than death can. It is the natural order of the universe to change.

The most predictable product of change is anxiety. Few of us can contemplate perpetual and unpredictable change without finding it worrying. How can we plan for our futures, for the future of our children and loved ones, if we don’t know what tomorrow will bring? Certainly we are remarkably inventive, flexible and capable creatures, rising over and over to the challenges that arrive with tomorrow’s dawn. If we were not so resourceful, we probably wouldn’t be here. But that doesn’t mean we have to like change, even as we struggle to accommodate it.

Climate change is, whatever you believe about it, a big issue. As its name implies, change is at the heart of the matter; change in climate, in the way we act, what we eat, how we travel, what we consume; changes to the way we take our pleasures and ameliorate our pains. And changes to what it costs us – and others – to maintain our lifestyles. Some see change as inevitable and may even find it refreshing, like a cold shower, while others resist change with bitter and furious arguments, resentment and despair. We should not blame or vilify them for doing so. It is all too human, and who can be criticised for that?

But change is now woven into the fabric of our lives in a way our grandparents could never have foreseen. Change happens so fast now. Technologies appear that infiltrate every aspect of our lives, rich and poor, north and south, developed and developing. Economies rise and fall with dizzying speed, now interlinked on a scale so vast it is hard to know who owns what, who bears responsibility or who is really in charge. Nations no longer exert the kind of control over their affairs they once did. Governments look increasingly impotent, as baffled as we are despite our desire for them to lead. They don’t know where we or they are going and we can see that all too clearly, like passengers on a ship staring at a captain who clearly cannot command. How can any leaders make credible plans when things change so fast? And this is not a situation that inspires confidence, delivers security or stability, especially when technology and social change engenders a media so pervasive that the mendacity and incompetence of leaders we elect and leaders imposed on us through dictatorships are equally exposed.

There is little that can address the speed of change except education, for we are always afraid of that we don’t understand. We need to be better equipped, more confident in ourselves, less dependent on institutions and, as a result, more self-reliant. What we cannot do is resist change, for this is futile and can only lead to more anger and frustration as we make the doomed attempt. And so it is that our leaders and representatives go to Copenhagen to discuss how we will cope with change. We cannot be absolutely certain we are causing climate change – there is no smoking gun and science is never ‘settled’ – but we can see our climate changing rapidly and there is no other explanation for this change.

So we have two options. Carry on as usual and hope the scientists are wrong, or take out some insurance. Nobody can prove your house will be burgled or catch on fire, but this lack of absolute certainty doesn’t stop us from insuring our homes and possessions. The mitigation steps that address climate change are the same steps needed to address energy security and resource management in a world whose population will has tripled in a single lifetime. If our governments want our support, they must address our concerns. Is cap and trade really a viable way to address climate change? Will green taxes be invested in renewable research or pay for Trident replacements? Our representatives have destroyed our trust in them. They must now make greater effort through meaningful and consistent actions, not mere hand-wringing and business as usual after the event.

Our leaders must not only show commitment, they must devise ways of making sure we are not taken advantage of yet again. It’s what we pay them to do. Climate change doesn’t have to be bad news, but if we are led by donkeys the only beneficiaries will be the real lions.

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