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If even climate scientists, who are as thoroughly informed as anyone about what their lifestyles are doing to the planet, aren’t able to take the very simple step from there to changing those lifestyles, knowledge is clearly not enough.Among those activists who’ve grasped the failure of earnest explanation, the next step is usually to frame the discussion in ethical terms: if only they can get people to see that what they’re doing is wrong, they think, people will change their ways and everything will be fine. There are complex reasons for that, reaching back to the broader failure of ethics as currently understood to have much of an effect on human behavior—a theme we’ll be discussing at some length in later posts.Many activists still seem to think the difficulty is purely a matter of knowledge: if only they can explain what’s happening and what has to be done about it to enough people, they think, people will change their ways and everything will be fine.This approach hasn’t worked well, in case you haven’t noticed.The difficulty with paradigm-driven science, though, is that no matter how good the procedures, questions, and answers mandated by any paradigm may be, sooner or later they stop yielding useful insights into nature.
With each year that passes, the annual cost of weather-related disasters rises, the broader financial impacts of climate change take a bigger bite out of the global economy, and such unsubtle signs as seawater flooding the streets of Miami Beach, methane explosions blasting craters in the Siberian permafrost, and freighters steaming through the formerly impassable Northwest Passage sound nature’s equivalent of a warning klaxon. As my regular readers know, the point of that prolonged experiment in online prose was my attempt to explore the primary historical fact of our time—the accelerating decline and impending fall of industrial civilization—from every angle I could think of, including some I never imagined addressing at all when I started blogging back in 2006.Those changes of angle happened partly because it gets boring to talk about the same thing in the same way over and over again, of course, but there was a deeper factor as well.It’s easy to dismiss all this as a matter of simple hypocrisy, but this doesn’t cover the territory either.We live in a hypocritical age, and one advantage that accrues from that fact is that most of my readers will be very familiar with the manifestations of hypocrisy in action.