Sadly post-modern understanding of human behaviour shows that we are far less rational than we thought. Somewhat embarrassingly, it turns out that our behaviours and beliefs are actually determined by complex, invisible currents that flow beneath the surface of consciousness. These strongly influence us in ways that can result in behaviours which lead us in the exact opposite direction than would arise from a rational pursuit of our own best interests.
This is the premise of the multi-billion dollar advertising industry – to pull the subconscious levers that work our controls in order to persuade us to buy things that we do not need. Why not try to be rational for once, rather than the puppet of your unconscious fears and desires?
I am very grateful to the animation staff at the Royal College of Art for supporting this work, and to the friends who contributed work to it for free.
I am not a scientist, I’m an animator. Nor do I have a background in science. I am not qualified to make judgements about the veracity of the data-sets and methodologies behind the peer-reviewed science that has informed the content of this film. But I am sufficiently well educated to be able to understand the abstracts, conclusions and executive summaries of this work, and to be able to draw my own conclusions about its implications for human welfare and prosperity.
What I have attempted to do here is to make the reasoning behind this work accessible to ordinary members of the public who, like me, lack scientific training; to unpack the ‘black boxes’ of scientific ‘facts’ so that we may examine their contents unobscured by jargon and mathematics. In this process I have necessarily massively over-simplified the concepts here represented, as well as omitting a great deal of information which I deemed to be insufficiently salient or insurmountably complex. There is much to be said about the roles of ice-flow dynamics and ocean currents in the climate system that does not appear in the film, for instance. I have obviously cherry-picked papers from the scientific literature which support my argument, and it is important to acknowledge this.
It should also be noted that the ‘meta-analysis’ (a sort of overview) that comprises the ‘science bit’ of this film not only over-simplifies some things while leaving others out, it also elides nearly all of the scientific uncertainty that surrounds each one of the concepts depicted. Absolute certainty is no part of the scientific method, which only ever seeks to ascribe spectra of probabilities to hypothetical postulates – in other words, to make educated guesses about how things work in the physical world.
I owe much of my interest in and understanding of the science of climate change to the authors Fred Pearce and Mark Lynas; I strongly recommend their books to anyone wanting to find out more about some of the key concepts touched on in the film. A shorter and more recent précis of this field is available in the form of Climate Code Red, published early 2008 by Carbon Equity and Friends of the Earth Australia.
A downloadable pdf of the film’s script contains hyperlinks to sites carrying more information about the topics discussed, as well as full citations of the original scientific source material for those wishing to investigate further. The picture I paint in my film, whilst far from representing the entire scientific community’s consensus view, is nevertheless a credibly sourced and highly plausible perspective. It is likely enough to be true to warrant very grave concern. If you believe I have seriously misrepresented any of the scientific concepts in the film, do get in touch – but please, not before thoroughly investigating the source material my understanding is drawn from.
I do not have any particular political or ideological affiliation beyond environmentalism itself. The critique of capitalism and consumerism in the film reflects my own observations of their systemic failure to respond effectively to climate change. What I am calling for in this film is a frank acceptance that further pursuit of the ideology we are presently governed by is demonstrably going to end life on earth as we know it, and a recognition that this clearly visible truth demands that we begin an urgent dialogue about what exactly we should be replacing it with.
I try to keep an open mind about this. In essence, I am making the really rather conservative argument that we should now be prioritising human welfare, security and indeed survival over the pursuit of short-term economic growth, and not, as at present, the other way around. This is hardly a radical proposition.
Yet to date, all discussion of emissions reductions strategies at the level of national and international politics has been circumscribed by the growth agenda. We are predicating our ability to avoid catastrophe on our ability to make money out of doing so. That strikes me as totally insane.
There is almost no evidence that it is possible to ‘de-couple’ economic growth from carbon emissions. Our entire global economy is powered by fossil fuels, and whilst it is certainly, easily possible to generate enough power to meet our basic needs from sustainable sources, attempting to satisfy the hunger of the market in this way is a laughable, hopeless fantasy. We need a re-think of the whole way our society works. Let’s get thinking.
Generally, I believe the most important value we need to uphold in any responses we make, both socially and individually, to climate change, is that of justice. Climate change is already the greatest injustice in human history. If the worst-case impact scenarios do indeed come to pass, it can reasonably be characterised a kind of protracted genocide, perpetrated by the richest part of the world’s population in the early 21st Century (that’s you and me, by the way), against the poorest part, and then against all the hundreds and thousands of future generations who will have to try to prosper in the mess we have left behind when we are gone. Never mind the countless hapless species we will be herding into the climate abattoir as we go. And all this for what, exactly? Individually wrapped biscuits, traffic jams and mini-breaks in Malaga? What a horrible, horrible waste.
The scenario I depict in which Britain has become a fortress, whose inhabitants constantly strive to murder anyone trying to gain access to it, is a product of a very sober and reasoned analysis of where the business-as-usual path we are on is likely to take us. This scenario will not only be bad for those dying in the boats; the occupants within the fortress walls would be subject to a totalitarian regime in which the state decides who lives and who dies when the basic resources for human life become too scarce. The denizens of this state would also be bereft of conscience, having lost their grip on any and all of the humanitarian ideals to which we claim to aspire today: we would be in a situation where we are forced to murder others for the crime of being hungry and homeless. If we fail to avoid crossing the threshold to irreversible, runaway warming, I fully expect my descendants, perhaps even my own children, to be conscripted to fight and kill in the resource wars which will almost certainly dominate the second half of this century.
Change is coming; social change on a massive, unprecedented scale. There are three potential avenues through which this change will manifest.
In the best case scenario we ourselves will be the architects of this change, working collectively and creatively to reshape social structures and ways of life from the bottom up to build a new paradigm based on equity and sustainability, and the kind of lifestyles that can still afford us a high quality of life and the opportunities for joy and prosperity that our own generation has enjoyed – albeit with much lower levels of material consumption.
The second option is to allow / demand the state, and very likely other powerful transnational institutions, to impose change from the top down, accepting massive curtailments of our personal freedoms and a new paradigm characterised by unprecedented levels of social control, state intrusion and global governance and enforcement in order to ensure that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations remain at or below safe levels.
The third option is to continue on our present path, and invite change to be visited on us, abruptly, at some point in the nearish future, through the medium of humanitarian catastrophe and eco-system collapse. Society will certainly be restructured as a consequence; but into something chaotic, unplanned, dreadful, bereft. Only a very small proportion of the humans alive when the shit finally hits the fan will survive this new paradigm. They will be the ones with the access to guns and the lack of conscience required to use them. What will the ‘society’ they build look like?
Doom and gloom aside, what seems clear to me is that there are plenty of alternative models of ways of life we could easily choose to adopt at the level of our local communities – alternatives that could not only avoid ecological Armageddon, but also result in an improved quality of life for those enacting them. What is to be done at the national and geo-political scale is much less clear, but I would point to the work of the New Economics Foundation for some very clear thinking on this problem. Profligacy and materialism are not only bad for their victims; they are bad for their beneficiaries too.
Surely we can do better than this?