Climate change is real — let’s party!

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(Image via @TWMcTavish)

Humans are hard-wired to ignore the effects of dangerous climate change, even though it threatens all, writes Lyn Bender.

It was White Night in Melbourne. So never mind the vacuousness.

As for climate change? We don’t even think about it, says George Marshall, activist researcher and author. We are wired by our early evolution, to ignore climate change even though it threatens all of us. Even though science tells us unequivocally, that we are progressing relentlessly to an unstable and uninhabitable planet; unless we change. Even as we become more aware of climate change, surveys indicate that we are becoming less concerned. It’s as though climate change has become a metaphor, to be referred to; but is considered less important than other issues, like for example health.

George Marshall contends that it is seen as in the future and as not an immediately identifiable threat.

But it is happening before our eyes. But we don’t seem to see it.

Like death, it’s probably going to happen; but not in our lifetime.

“I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be around when it happens”,  quipped Woody Allen.

But most of us take reasonable precautions to protect ourselves; not so with our home mother earth. When it comes to climate change, we party like there is no tomorrow.

But what is a metaphor anyway, when you can take Melbourne’s White Night literally? It is glory, it is spectacle, it is consumption it is a celebration and lights galore.

The sushi bars and kransky sausage sellers ply their wares, to hungry hoards as they wander the streets in search of the next free event. It is a night at the fair, or the Melbourne show but all lit up, like a gigantic Xmas tree.

 It was a grand night of celebration in honour of what, precisely?

The original white nights had been celebrated since the eighteenth century traditionally, in St Petersburg, as the city emerged from its long cold winter.

'In St. Petersburg, the grand city of the czars, they call them the “White Nights”: those 80 or so evenings, running from May to the end of July, when the city emerges from long months of cold and darkness and celebrates the brief return of nearly round-the-clock daylight.'

The White Night has been celebrated in many cities in the world, including Paris, Tel Aviv, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Lima and Calgary since the start of the new millennium. Melbourne only caught onto the trend in 2013.

But what does it mean to the 450,000 or so Victorians that flock to the streets of Melbourne? All night coffee, lit up iconic buildings, white couches in the Bourke street mall, where people sit and watch ink blot shapes dancing on a large screen, to a Strauss waltz.

There were, of course, fireworks, plenty of fast food, electrified psychedelic batons, plastic head -gear and walking searching throngs. The Melbourne Library was on display and the Library café was doing a fine trade. I would like to say that I could bring you extensive on the ground reporting; but Swanson Street was so packed that ploughing through it was a daunting prospect. So I didn’t actually see the “Little India” Sita’s Garden, the floating lotus and Bollywood spectacle by the Yarra River. White Night has been derided by critics  as “a cultural one night stand”, but that may be being a bit harsh about one night stands. The dollar cost of this one nightstand is not being revealed, but it’s surely mega bucks.

So am I being a “White Night Grinch” [a mean spirited unfriendly person] when the state government is sponsoring a dawn to dusk night of culture and fun for the masses? It’s a chance to forget all our woes. Forget the homeless, who still line the streets, forget global warming — that is to say, forget the carbon expenditure. We are homo-sapiens and we are here to consume and hang the expense

According to George Marshall, human beings are wired to respond to immediate threats, but to ignore danger perceived to be in the future. We are chronically short-term emotional responders.

We are also subject to the bystander’s effect. We follow the herd. If most of us know about climate change and are doing nothing much about it – going on with business as usual – than it must be all right. Or someone would do something if it were really that bad. The bystander effect is evident on the streets as passers by ignore the homeless persons' pleas for help. It’s easy to think "it’s not my problem", as hundreds pass them by.

Marshall contends that the crisis of climate change has become a war of values. Just like the rhetoric in war, all “sides” contend that the other is the enemy and that right, good, nobility and the true cause reside with their own side.

Each side in the climate change wars borrows the rhetoric. 

Joe Hockey, treasurer in a government that repealed the carbon tax and savaged renewables, has warned of the intergenerational debt legacy robbing future generations.

Marshall contends that the message and stories about climate change needs to be communicated accross all groups and value systems.

“Fight climate change and make money

The above is a headline quoting Richard Branson and is more likely to engage entrepreneurs than images of stranded polar bears.

Marshall, who has worked for Greenpeace, contends that the way climate change is communicated is crucial. Unlike niche marketing, all groups need to be engaged.

Marshall adds that we rarely have conversations about climate change. We just don’t want to know. Even after increasing heat waves and disasters such as the recent Queensland cyclones, we fail to join the dots. Perhaps it is in the too hard basket, politically and personally.

Armed with fresh intent I was off to an intimate gathering of friends and new acquaintances, determined to raise the topic of why we don’t talk about climate change.

Despite my resolve, after two hours of conversation, ranging from real estate to health and politics, the "C" word just never came up. I would have been the wet blanket party pooper — or so I thought. Even though I knew people within the group were passionately concerned about the climate, health and the economy were more manageable.

But climate change is real — so why don’t we get real. We are all implicated.

We need to talk about it and make our concerns loud and clear. We need to talk in new ways that lead to connection and action, or we may sleep walk our way to catastrophe. As the current Abbott Government fails us, climate should be at the top of our lists, as a vote maker or deal breaker.

You can follow Lyn Bender on Twitter @lynestel.

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