I’ve lately discovered Twitter, after having dismissed a couple of years ago as a primarily Authoritarian value set format. 240 character fragments, blurted out to the world, didn’t inspire me as a mode for doing much besides asserting one’s viewpoint. I was wrong. Twitter actually has relatively amazing possibilities, and I’ve become convinced the short text length is actually an asset — not a liability. For intelligent people, it forces a conciseness that also requires building on others’ arguments. There’s only so many times you can type “This” and re-tweet someone else’s stuff.
And if you are high-conflict, or stupid, there’s only so many times you can write “You’re STOOPID.” You can follow me on Twitter if you’re so inclined. I’m Empathy Guru, or #PezeshkiCharles.
I have relatively few people I follow, and also relatively few followers. One of the ones I picked up was a friend of my chronic co-conspirator, Ryan Martens, Tom Higley. Tom got pegged with reading the MVP of my manuscript, and is also the founder of 10.10.10 — a serial entrepreneur/institutional connector looking at bringing people together to solve the world’s problems. They’re declared as a “wicked problem” meta-incubator, running workshops around these big questions.
Long story short — Tom’s feed throws up big questions, some that actually are longer than a Twitter comment. One of these today was ‘why don’t people care about global warming?’ The answer, of course, has to be grounded in understanding human empathetic development. Why? Everything we do has to go back to the brain, and how we connect and relate is what evolves that organ. “As we relate, so we think.” You can’t escape it.
Global warming is a sticky wicket, because, at some level, it is a long time-scale/spatial scale problem. Long temporal scale problems become problematic in people’s minds, as many people who have the actual free time to think about them — older people — are going to be dead by the time the excrement really hits the ventilator. Younger people are mired in the economic crisis of the time, and while they have the most to lose, they don’t have the luxury of thinking about it.
Spatial scales in the same way affect concern about global warming. When we’re suffering through an ice storm here in the U.S., it becomes almost impossible for people to conceive that maybe halfway across the world below the equator, a part of the world is suffering the worst heat wave they’ve ever seen, People’s brains just don’t work on that level, unless relationally they have friends who live where the heat wave is taking place. And if that place is someplace like the outer islands of Indonesia, it makes it doubly difficult. No one even has any sense where those places are on the globe.
And it’s worse than that. One of the more depressing exercises I’ve engaged in was to ground myself in people’s actual ignorance of the physicality of our planet. It can be tough, but if you have a hard time understanding where people are actually at, grab a clipboard, put a pen behind your ear, and walk around asking people the simple question: if gravity pulls down (few will deny this) why don’t people on the bottom of the Earth fall off?
Long temporal scales, and large spatial scales also mess with people’s sense of consequentiality. We’re happy to give enough money to buy a baby calf to Heifer Project for a poor kid in an ad in one of those benighted, and inevitably dark countries. Fragmented, interpersonal identification is something our brains fundamentally relate to, with only a little social evolution. Most of us don’t want poor children to starve.
We also understand things like ‘plant a tree in the rainforest’ — the rainforest, besides being a real thing, is a mythic icon after 40 years of campaigning. But getting how to change utility systems at home mystifies us. The hardcore campaigners are always happy to put solar panels on their roofs — and there’s nothing wrong with adding another layer of insulation. But to get people out of their box and connect with others with the goal of rearranging electrical supplies from their local utilities mystifies most. A few communities (Boulder comes to mind) are attempting to do something. But the list ends up being countable on one or two hands. An actual movement outside some place like Germany, where social cohesion AND agency are both strong, as well as a wicked performance mindset, is still elusive.
Current economics, and the income crisis gap affecting the middle class don’t help. Why? Empathetic development is measured in terms of temporal and spatial awareness, of course. But it is also grounded in energetics, meaning you have to have some free time to make and maintain those independently generated relationships. In order to get the masses involved and thinking rationally, they need to not be in a Survival-level crisis all the time. And far too many people are. You can’t run from the thermodynamics of the situation.
The short answer, then, is to fix global warming, we might focus on the well-being of a socially-supported middle class first. People are plenty smart, and if they possibly can participate, they’ll find a way. And then those emergent solutions will start popping up, at larger and larger, appropriate self-organizing scales. We can goose this along with smart technology and appropriate evangelization, of course. There’s nothing to be gained by NOT talking about AGW. It’s happening.
But if we don’t work concomitantly, aiming to expand people’s temporal, spatial and energetic scales, along with working on improving their consequentiality, then larger solutions will remain elusive. Until AGW really does burn folks, and creates that Survival Level Maximal Neuroplasticity crisis. Once you’re down there in the Survival Value Set, anything is indeed possible. But that ‘anything’ is as likely to be magical or authoritarian thinking, and those low empathy modes always result in a lot of people dying who are unfortunate to be in the Out-Group. Not desirable.
So far, from my perch on the Palouse, I’ve seen AGW affect places on the tails of the weather distribution in dramatic ways. Short version — storms nuke places beyond recognition. Puerto Rico and Paradise, CA are the exemplars, as well as Mexican Beach in Florida. The impacts are still small enough that absorption, and at some level, reconstruction are possible with development of those In-group/Out-group low empathy dynamics. But as the problem gets worse, the number of displaced people will grow. And humans are not known for sitting in one location and waiting to die. We can see some of this happening already with crop failures in Central America, which are driving migrant caravans. Larger cause-and-effect will happen. It will not be pretty.
There is no one solution. It is a wicked problem. But any solution that does not include stabilization of the people capable of peacefully thinking through the problem will fail. And then, all bets are off.
PS — though when I started writing this post, I didn’t realize it is Earth Day today! So — Happy Earth Day! Go out and share it with someone whom you can have a meaningful conversation with. Or help someone. Every little bit of personal development helps!