Ben Stiller, Our Complex Problems & Getting “Unstuck”

Okay, unlike the norm, Ben Stiller only gets a cameo in this story. In fact, the link is pretty tenuous but I hope that you see it for the key point I’m trying to make….

For me, 2016 got off to a bit of a rude shock, to say the least, with the announcement that the impact of mankind has now got to the very point of being so extreme that we have probably pushed Earth into a new geological epoch. The evidence for this ranges from the well-known through to the rarely considered and includes:

  • Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution;
  • Based on current trends, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight);
  • We are now on course for the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — only this one could see 75 % of species extinct over the next few hundred years based on current rates of extinction; and
  • Traces of isotopes have been left in the planet’s mid latitudes due to the proliferation of nuclear weapon tests in the ’50s and ‘60s.

And to give it further perspective, soon after that news came out, the annual Doomsday Clock announcement was made. Now, if you missed it, the Doomsday Clock conveys how close we are to destroying our civilisation by using the imagery of a clock stuck at midnight (implying the lights are being turned off and they ain’t coming back on).

In 2015, the group of eminent scientists behind the Clock determined that it should be set at three minutes to midnight. That is:

unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.”

At present, the clock is to remain at three minutes to midnight.

In terms of creating a sense of urgency, I would have thought that it can’t get any bigger than that! For me, having worked in sustainability / sustainable development for twenty years, it once again got me really thinking about what legacy we are leaving behind us. And how can a greater sense of urgency be created.

Improving Awareness…and Action

Which brings me to raising awareness of these wicked challenges.

When I saw the announcement about the Doomsday Clock getting airtime on TV one morning — while I can’t be sure of this — I reckon it got far less time than a segment on Ben Stiller appearing in my home city of Sydney to promote his latest movie.

“Oh, how funny is it!” seemed to be the collective view. And Ben was interviewed and showed himself to be a very nice guy.

I’m sure he is — and his movies are a lot of fun. But, the temporary entertainment that his movie brings gained so much more consideration over coming days than the Anthropocene and Doomsday Clock got collectively.

Hence, even when we actually know what we’re doing — and we can see the consequences — so many within the media are still caught up in old habits and old ways of thinking. But is the media solely to blame? Aren’t they just showing what the majority want?

If so, why is that? Why do we only want to focus on the superficial?

Well, Daniel Goleman believes that we suffer a vast, shared blind spot.

Our brains have been exceptional when it comes to “fight or flight’. But, with the slow emergence of threats that are complex, less palpable and coming at us in some indefinite future, our built-in perceptual alarms seem to be useless. Evolution just hasn’t had to deal with these before.

So, as the clock ticks, how do you think we can give society the jolt required to get people seeing that the old ways of thinking are flawed or even to see the opportunities for calling on a different way of thinking? How do we interest mainstream media? How do we interest social media to have discuss such topics in a respectful and constructive manner?

Certainly, there is scope for the use of improved narratives (the case to tackle climate change has a poor narrative, for example, in comparison to the narrative of fear initiated by climate sceptics). And art can also be a great way to appeal to people with more than just facts.

Should I just be raising awareness by taking a selfie in a bikini and putting it on Instagram? J. Anyway, over to you…..

Bulletin of the atomic scientists.

Goleman, D. (20010). Ecological intelligence. Penguin books.

Vaughan, A. (2016). Human impact has pushed Earth into the Anthropocene, scientists say. Guardian 8th January, 2016.

WEF (2016). The new plastics economy: Rethinking the future of plastics. World Economic Forum.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated David Ross’s story.