Saturday, July 12, 2014

Clive Hamilton vs Andy Revkin (Earth Poisoning diary 18 months)

I just read the debate between the distinguished and prolific Australian public intellectual Professor Clive Hamilton and Andrew Revkin, the New York Times environmental journalist who is the driving force behind "Dot Earth". There are several discussions on the internet, here is an extract from one:

Hamilton: "I guess this is my essential message: Carry on as we are, even with quite good outcomes from the incremental approach, and we're screwed. My argument in Requiem for a Species is that we can either face up to this, or we don't. We can choose not to think about it, we can tell stories to ourselves about how it must just be exaggerated, or we can imagine that some technology will come along and everything will be okay. Or we can look at it with open eyes, and allow it to blast away all our utopian imaginings, and say, well, we are in really deep trouble, and it's extremely unlikely that we are going to get out of it unscathed. So what do we do in that situation? And what does it mean for how we act? Does it mean we go for the muddle-through approach even though we know the consequences are likely to be catastrophic? Or do we fundamentally try to rethink and change strategies?"

"... Mind you, I've got much more time for those engaged in civil disobedience who are really trying to take on the system."

Elsewhere, Hamilton writes: "So the 'good Anthropocene' is a story about the world that could have been written by the powerful interests that have got us into this mess and who are fighting so effectively to prevent us from getting out of it. In the long term this kind of thinking will prove more insidious than climate science denial."

I think Hamilton won this debate hands down, though Revkin stood his ground. For me it was interesting how Revkin revealed his thinking about his own sons:

Revkin: "Over the last three years - in having this shift in my focus from goals that are numbers to goals that are qualities - there's this resonant metaphor I used in my talk: I have two boys, one 16, one 23, and when they were little I could have watched them sleeping in their beds and thought "I'd really like them to be doctors making $400,000 a year." More recently I think I would look at them and think what are the traits I would want to have in these two kids to maximize their chances of thriving and being productive and collaborative and generous ... This shift from "I want to make this kid's life good," to "I want this kid to have good qualities," requires letting go. And it's really scary that".


I took heart from this. (I am a medical doctor but such a salary seems astronomical to me, and could only be achieved in this country by taking advantage of vulnerable people). It made me think that Revkin has in more recent times become a bit less materialistic and more altruistic. As one of the most influential environmental journalists on the planet that is important. I thought for him to say that this apparent shift was "really scary" particularly interesting and revealing.

About six years ago I managed to correspond briefly with Andy Revkin, attempting to interest him in the poverty (and indeed famine) alleviating benefits of slower population growth in low-income countries, but in the end without success.

My own impending arrest

My own plans to be arrested to protest the reckless scale of Australian coal exports continue to strengthen and develop, but the exact circumstances are currently on hold due to personal circumstances that I can't explain here. I am however greatly heartened by the growth of this movement, such as recent arrests of students at Harvard and North Western Universities, in order to encourage that their campuses divest from investment in fossil fuels. I am also encouraged by the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the World Council of Churches, and Pope Francis concerning the crucial challenge of climate change. My edited book, Climate Change and Global Health, is now in the final proof stage and will, I hope, be available in September 2014. Meantime, surface melt in Greenland continues to be too high and rising sea levels are contributing to flooding on the US East Coast. These events erode health determinants, and must be reversed while there is time.

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