Thursday, January 19, 2012

The eternal question

Does it really matter why we do things as long as they get done?

I am attending a conference on issues of communicating climate change to those who don't believe or accept it. Leaders from all areas of the debate, including academia, activism, non-profits, conflict resolution, and corporations have convened in Ann Arbor in an event co-sponsored by the Erb Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Nancy Jackson, a community organiser, and executive director for the Climate+Energy Project in Kansas. She said that to the atmosphere, all that really matters it the amount of carbon dioxide in it. Therefore, it doesn't matter what people think, it matters what people do.

While I find this argument compelling for a second, I am quickly led to think about the greater umbrella that guides our behaviours. Say that we are able to fully "solve" or "address" the issues of climate change through energy efficiency, "smart growth", "green" consumerism, and eating away at the carbon stabilisation wedges. Say we are able to steer the world away from the worst-case scenarios of climate change and sea-level rise. Say we are able to have our cake and eat it too. I wonder then, say one hundred years from now, or one hundred and fifty years from now, will the world be faced with some other massive existential problem? I wonder, if people aren't made to really think about their choices and the consequences of their choices, are we setting ourselves up for an even bigger challenge and hurdle (if that is fathomable) in the future?

Several questions then abound. What sort of legacy do we leave people with? How do we educate and train the next generation? What values do we instill in them? How might we best equip them with the capacities to think through issues facing them and the collectives they are embedded in? Are we making the next generation more resilient than ours? Or are we setting them up for problems that they, too, will kick down the road, if possible?

I think it is powerful to play this out in our own lives. Most all of us would agree that the ends do not always justify the means. For those of us that are not in desperate situations, we would think that selling drugs to pay for the monthly electricity bills is not acceptable. We might start making due with less or cutting costs by being inventive and creative about our electricity use. Many of us would think it unacceptable to leave our very children unprepared for the world by not equipping them with an understanding of human relationships and how to treat other people.

For some reason, we continue to want a better world for future generations, while at the same time undermining their abilities to address the challenges they will face, while at the same time creating even larger problems. So, does it matter what people think? Absolutely.

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