“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In Dialogue with John Protevi

...the master of political affect, who had the same surge of excitement/adrenalin as I did when reading the "Hug the Monster" piece on global warming (see below). Here are his questions concerning how climate scientists should speak at the next big press conference, and my crude answers:

1) how to mobilize affect even while respecting the limits to precise micro-level prediction attendant on nonlinearity? ("just exactly how high are the seas going to be in 2100? we really don't know exactly, but here's a range of values with probabilities for each" doesn't exactly grab people's attention).

ANSWER: "Unpredictably violent. Imagine not an angry reaction to fossil fuel burning, but a deranged psychopathic one. The unknown factor is why it's so scary."

2) how to convince scientists to issue sober doomsday warnings?

ANSWER: "Reasoning with people has the adverse and surprising (for you) effect of insulting their intelligence. It also makes people feel they have to change their beliefs (much as you don't like to hear your ideas described as beliefs). You have to walk people through a series of experiences that are psychologically equivalent to accepting global warming."

3) how to publicize those warnings in a way that avoids denial / panic, and that can be channeled into constructive collective action?

ANSWER: "If you care about someone, you just help them, no matter what. Frame your warning in terms of caring, not about abstractions ("collective civilization" was mentioned on ABC but sounds too science fictiony), but about human beings--you and your neighbors"

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