This year's annual global climate talks in Doha, COP 18, are underway amongst widespread skepticism that recent stalemates in discussions will be averted. With seemingly perpetual deadlock in climate negotiations we need a new movement to reinvigorate the global conversation around climate change.
In Greenland, high in the Arctic, a pregnant woman is projected onto a glacial wall of ice. The woman's body and mind are nurturing the growing fetus within her. It is her primary focus. Soon a new life will be born. Within twenty years, when the baby is grown into an adult, the glacial ice of the high Arctic will have largely disappeared. The baby has been nurtured but have we abandoned any notion of care for its habitat?
Storytellers, C. S. Lewis said, carry meaning in a way that rational truth-tellers cannot. "For me," the novelist wrote, "reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition."
For the past twelve years Cape Farewell has embedded climate scientists with artists, writers, and filmmakers to address what has been described as humanity's greatest challenge: anthropogenic climate change. The two intellectual tribes of scientists and artists have been surprised at the closeness of their shared quest to define how we can comprehend the complexities of the climate challenge; both camps have benefited from each others ambition to vision a cultural shift that could lead towards sustainable societies.
The scientific evidence is clear. Our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and in damaging and potentially irreversible ways. Yet even as we witness the impact of "crazy weather" (droughts, floods, storms) on food production and habitat, and we watch it place additional stresses on global health and economies, it seems that both the media and public debate have become quieter on the issue of climate change. The larger collective will is to simply ignore the proverbial elephant in the room.
The urgency isn't being communicated successfully enough to provoke the real change needed in our global societies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and mitigate climate change. The resistance to accepting the challenge is baffling in the face of the extreme weather events and other disturbances across our planet. Anthropogenic climate change threatens us all with an uncertain physical, social and economic future, so why are we not engaged in sorting out our future? Perhaps social and cultural approaches can succeed where the hard facts of science have largely failed.
Hurricane Sandy has swept through New York, and the climate stories now have a human dimension. The seas have flooded great tracts of subways, and 40-story business hubs have had their basements flooded to street level. Not a catastrophe in itself, except when you consider that all the computer equipment and power was housed underground and the business machine had ground to a soggy halt.
New York has provided human-scale stories of a global-scale event. What we need now is human-scale solutions to global concepts. A two- or four-degree rise in global temperatures scares the hell out of the knowledgeable few but are without meaning to most. These temperature facts are just data without the possibility of imagination.
We have the means to fix the problem; the technology of clean energy production is sitting on the shelf but it needs a trillion-dollar investment to make it productive. This scale of investment is required to create a level playing field with the oil and coal industries, to make clean, renewable energy cost equivalent. Reaching for these new technologies requires an investment in, for example, DC cabling and a 21st-century smart grid. This will unlock the creative design and liquid society to establish a whole new economy, creating new employment, new social values and new economic models. Unlocking the desire for a sustainable future is probably more about imagination than reason, it is about the messy human condition that motivates change.
The climate challenge is about human activity and civilization. It is about framing climate, as culture.