Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Human Titanic: steering a safe passage for civilisation. Part 2

Why the Human Titanic?

In the most simple form, I call our ship the Human Titanic not only because I fear it is on track to the iceberg, but because of the inequality on board, which means too few of the passengers (including us on the second deck) identify with the fate of the whole ship. Those with power to change the course of the vessel, like Rupert Murdoch, do not try very hard, and those who would like to change the path, or slow its speed, have very little power to do so. And the people most vulnerable to collision have almost no understanding of the risk - but, if they did, they too could not do anything about it.

 Ignoring the warnings

A tiny nudge of the Human Titanic's trajectory might see it (us) just miss the iceberg. On the real Titanic there should have been a pair of binoculars for the lookout on the Crow's Nest, but it was unavailable due to a not uncommon human error.  The captain had one in the lower-situated bridge. Of course, the lookout might not have spotted the dark ice, but it's only one example of the brinkmanship that was underway on that boat, just as it is now with the climate and other aspects of adverse global environmental change. If the lookout had raised the alarm in time the captain would have reacted; even the first claste passengers would been relieved. No-one wanted to try escaping on a lifeboat lowered into cold dark water.

Today, the first claste are essentially saying "full steam ahead" - more speed and growth of the global economy. They discount and underestimate the value of information delivered by new technology (eg satellite estimates showing the loss of mass of Antarctica and Greenland due to melting ice) just as on the real boat in 1912 they paid too little attention to that then newfangled invention, Marconi's wireless. They also failed to make good use of old technology, like the binoculars. Today, we fail to make use of old technology like weather records. But then, just as now, part of the risk is the extent of global inequality, as Tom Athanasiou appreciates, but Paul Gilding does not seem to.