15 December 2009
The accommodators and the expanders
The politics of left and right are being replaced by a new ethical divide
Love him or hate him, liberal commentator George Monbiot is correct when he says the Copenhagen climate change talks are about much more than climate change. They herald the moment at which humankind turns and faces itself and decides what it is and what it will become.
In his column in the UK Guardian he says Copenhagen confronts us with our primal tragedy.
"We are the universal ape, equipped with the ingenuity and aggression to bring down prey much larger than itself, break into new lands, roar its defiance of natural constraints. Now we find ourselves hedged in by the consequences of our nature, living meekly on this crowded planet for fear of provoking or damaging others. We have the hearts of lions and live the lives of clerks.
"The summit's premise is that the age of heroism is over. We have entered the age of accommodation. No longer may we live without restraint. No longer may we swing our fists regardless of whose nose might be in the way. In everything we do we must now be mindful of the lives of others, cautious, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live in the moment, as if there were no tomorrow.
"This is a meeting about chemicals: the greenhouse gases insulating the atmosphere. But it is also a battle between two world views.
"Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits. The vicious battles we have seen so far between greens and climate change deniers, road safety campaigners and speed freaks, real grassroots groups and corporate-sponsored astroturfers are just the beginning. This war will become much uglier as people kick against the limits that decency demands."
To this list, if he was a Kiwi, he might have added the battles between the anti-nannystaters and those who deem it important to have energy efficient light bulbs and shower heads in our homes.
Monbiot, as is his want, lapses in his column into name-calling and polemics, but his thesis is correct. The beliefs of the accommodators increasingly influence the policies of all mainstream political parties - witness National's Blue Green vision - and provide a philosophical underpinning for the arguments of many of those who oppose new technologies and industrial developments in New Zealand. In reality much of this opposition, whether it is to the commercialisation of GMOs or the establishment of industrial dairy farms in the Mackenzie Basin, is instinctive rather than the outcome of rational analysis of the facts.
The challenge for the developers and the statutory agencies evaluating their proposals is to communicate with the public in a way that elevates facts above emotion, head before heart. This is a complex task at the best of times and one where the advice of professional communicators should be sought well before a development proposal goes public.
- Trevor Walton