George Monbiot writes poignantly about his desperation in the face of environmental inaction (Watching Don’t Look Up Made Me See My Whole Life from Front Flash Campaign, Jan. 4). It is possible to understand the strange lack of urgency by looking at what George expresses elsewhere, namely, that humanity is trapped in a capitalist consumer system, the effects of which are ecologically catastrophic. The problem that leads to pessimism is that changes in the basic belief systems of any culture must inevitably be very slow. Associated values are taken for granted like the atmosphere of social existence, and are shared as the basic assumptions of life, that it takes generations for cultures to change in their basics.
The catastrophes the world is facing, caused directly by our cultural values, are so serious and imminent that change is required immediately. However, change requires an alternative system of values that humanity must adopt to create a new cultural context.
Cultural values cannot be intellectually created and then imposed on society. They enter only as a social presence through an organic growth process. So the momentum of our prevailing values, in the depths of our souls, overwhelms our evidence of danger and very effectively maintains the status quo, apart from a little fix. We are all collectively angry because we share the same intimate values, and the collective nature of our fantasies obscures and comforts us.
The problem is not so much with the media, as George Monbiot suggests, but rather with academia. Judging from the perspective of helping us solve the climate crisis, academia is an intellectual and practical disaster.
If academia is rationally and effectively dedicated to helping us solve the climate crisis, and other global problems, it will give absolute intellectual priority to the tasks of clarifying problems, proposing possible solutions and critically evaluating them. The pursuit of knowledge will be important, but secondary. The central task is to actively engage with the public to promote actions designed to solve the climate crisis – and above all, pressure the government to act. But universities do not progress that way from a distance. They are dedicated to the pursuit and application of knowledge; They do not take it as their primary task to intelligently conduct a public education about what our problems are, and what we need to do to solve them.
As I have argued in book after book, and article after article, for nearly 50 years, we have been facing a climate catastrophe due to the gross and so destructive structural irrationality in academia, which prohibits prioritizing our all-important living problems.
Science and Technology Studies, University College London
I deeply sympathized with George Monbiot’s frustration with the media. Last night I walked out of the room where my husband was watching the news because I was so frustrated with the relative irrelevance of the main things.
Where is the news on progress or lack of action that world leaders should take on climate change? What can we do to make them stand up and pay attention to Monbiot and those like him, who are telling us the painful truth? My fear and frustration are not for me – I’m 80 – but for the generations to come. All I can do is rant.