Waking Up— in an unforgiving climate

(Final of the 4-Part Wake Up series)

Sleepwalkers heading in lock step for the Brexit prompted Parts 1–3 of this series. But Brexit is far from unique amongst delusional dreamers. Elsewhere on this planet, its consequences might be seen as a minor localized inconvenience — surely an unfortunate blip that impacts only on a small state that has perversely resigned its former pioneering role. Seen in a wider global context, other drifts demand a cold shower to shake off complacency.

But hold on. Whose problems are these? Most commentaries (including the earlier parts of this Wake Up series) assume an endemic lack of public attentiveness — an ill-informed and gullible populace in a sleep-induced coma blissfully unaware of encroaching disaster. But isn’t this exactly why we elect leaders? Why we have a government? Why we pay for bright minds to think things through?

Priorities

When Fred Fleet reported “Iceberg ahead!” to Titanic’s bridge the management options were already limited. Now, 106 years later, one might imagine that early warning systems would trigger earlier action — but the course has been set.

Off Course alarms may be ringing all over the place but most remain unattended. Truly great leaders are only regarded as such in retrospect. Along the way, their daily lot is to make difficult choices, stick to well-evidenced principles and inspire wide support.

Leadership pressures are huge and fly in from many different directions. Distractions often appeal and prioritization of one issue over another may seem cruel — arbitrary even. But having choices and making rational decisions first demands awareness. Recognising impending disasters should, in theory, be less of a problem for great leaders — getting the populace to wake up is surely much more of a challenge.

But is that really so? Public awareness of plastic pollution of oceans, for example, runs well ahead of action by global government leaders. Environmental, Food and Health issues are obviously not confined to any one country — so remedial actions need to be multi-national or at least regional. Any country choosing to opt out of playing its part diminishes us all — as the Dean of St Paul’s might have inferred back in 1624.

That sinking feeling

These are not simple issues. For most of us it’s their complexity that baffles. Reduction to three words in 80-point capitals is beyond the brevity of headline writers. New tools and new data are, however, making complexity easier to compute. In Part 3 we cited gapminder.com and there’s now a whole new breed of data journalists explaining the previously inexplicable. Even economists are (very) gradually being weaned off reliance on dodgy assumptions and ancient analogues but we’re still waiting for them to re-classify ‘subsidies’ as ‘investments’.

Truth to tell, tabloid readers are less and less likely to believe what they are told to believe. For sure, as noted in Part 3, the ‘myth takes’are buried deep and their excavation takes time but the young and better educated are not only in the ascendency — they are fully-fibred light years ahead of tired minds at the top.

We can, for example, all get our heads around rising sea levels — even if the volume of water from melting ice caps is difficult to envisage. But we can now also compute the flood risks of sinking cities. In 1984 the Thames barrier was planned to be raised twice a year, but now the gates are exercised three times as often. So what extra defence is planned now? Mind you, it’s not all bad news — Scotland is on the rise on account of the giant geological seesaw that is mainland Britain. Sure hope they don’t adopt a hostile immigration policy.

Existential threats

Setting aside cynical provincial cheering at the news of London’s decline, there are plenty of other environmental issues that make Brexit fade into irrelevance. But our horizons rarely reach beyond the immediate. Will government survive beyond the next election? Will the job last though next year? Will the kids make it through school? Will there be strawberries enough next Wimbledon? And now they expect me to do something about the climate? Could it possibly be that those in First Class don’t have our best interests at heart?

Our capacity for concern is already over stretched. Run down and run ragged, the least we expect from those who presume to lead is to have the capacity, the rigour, the good sense, to think things through before jumping into the unknown. They may think we are asleep but right now a great many of us are having nightmares that there’s no one awake at the wheel.

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Graphic credit: Navitron Systems Ltd