Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How To Change a Paradigm

It occurred to me the other day, as I was pedantically rambling about the interconnectivity of societal structures, which both affords mutual stability and ensures stubborn resilience to change, that my particular brand of world-qualms stem from paradigms. In many ways,  I find macro-level foundations to be the ones that need to most shaking. Of course I find merit in helping individuals; in volunteering at schools and teaching a 6th grade class how to compost, but the fact of the matter is that big things don’t change, and are created to not change, by a few puny bottom-up attempts to better a concentrated issue. The positive spin on this, logically, is that the underpinnings of society are not shaken by negative groups either—and thus the yin and yang of the plight of adjusting to climate change takes shape.

So what am I trying to change here? And why? What paradigms exist in our nation, one of the wealthiest in the world (depending on what parameters you’re looking at), that could possibly benefit from a massive overhaul? Well if you've been paying attention, you know I will first say society’s understanding of global climate change and environmental degradation. A close second, however, and something entirely related, is our education system, our economic system, and our political system.

In the interest of the “How To” in the title of this post, I will use only one example of the connective overlap of these realms of thought to demonstrate the paradigm machine. One fluid example of the intermixing of these realms goes like this: society is questioning the credibility of modern science as it relates to global climate change—which breeds, instead of healthy curiosity, blatant rejection, inaction, and hardness. That this is even still debated brings me back to the blunder in Kansas’ schooling system, where evolution has yet to be universally accepted (this would be amusing if it wasn't so scary). This shadow (or perhaps cloud) of doubt in scientific ‘truth’ stems in part from political grandstanding as admitting peril in climate change would render political action necessary, likely in favor of increased public spending on innovation and reduction of pollutants—enter the conservative backlash away from larger government influence. This in turn influences how far the “green movement” toward recycling, up-cycling, tetra-cycling, conserving, reducing, reusing, and changing the current system is capable of going. We have here, the commodification of human existence (of life itself, if sea levels continue rising and essential species keep losing habitat), something I deem more pressing than using canvas bags at the grocery store. And now we circle back to education, where funding is flimsy and students in public education (about 90.38% or over 49.8 million of the 55.1 million elementary and secondary students in the United States) are encouraged to pass, not learn; to achieve as generations have before them, despite the vastly different economic picture of today and of the future. So gerrymandering (political effecting education), a lack of funding (political effecting economic effecting education), and distorted distributions of information (education effecting scientific) all swirl together to create an all too real problem of monumental consequence.

And this is only one example of the reach of such a paradigm.

Now, how do we change this? A simple question warranting an entire civilizations command of resources from capital to thought processes. Before I delve into the good, the bad, and certainly the ugly, I’d like to start with one of my favorite quotes. Contrary to popular notions and my own writing, there is, however slim, always hope:      

“The first is that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience—whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”
—Howard Zinn, “Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian,” The Optimism of Uncertainty

My contradictory stage is set with an insurmountable problem of ever-cycling misuse of society’s capabilities, and the reactive motivation of human resiliency and determination. How to change a paradigm has everything to do with scale and scope—so how do we convince people that our cause (or any cause) is just?

The United Nations, and truly the world’s, triumph over CFCs in the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is a beauteous, if not hauntingly isolated, instance of cooperation within the different spheres of societal thought. Suddenly we (the royal, societal, ‘we’) saw correlation between our actions and a tangible hazard. Chemical companies came together to fight for the common good (and a pretty piece of positive press) and legislators did something entirely unexpected: acted quickly. 

This proves two very important things: 

  1. People listen when the words are right, and 
  2. Collective action is possible on a global scale

My directive now is to call you to action. I want you to lobby for the greater good with pens and paper and a voice with something to say. Educate yourself on climate change, on collective action, on why the Toxics Regime failed just like the waste trading regime failed. These lacked singular direction. Granted, problems are rarely as simple as removing one chemical from one system to make a huge impact, but every problem can be broken down into pieces. The spheres of economic, political, and educational power are intrinsically linked, and as John Muir once said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." You are the universe. You are connected to everything. John Mayer had it wrong, it simply will not do to wait on the world to change (for those who know me, this pop culture reference is a big deal). 

Check out ways to get involved in your community by making the jump to Citizens Climate Lobby

1 comment:

  1. The One Percent doctrine (also called the Cheney doctrine) was created by conservative leaders in response to worries that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear weapons expertise to Al Qaeda after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack. Responding to the thought that Al Qaeda might want to acquire a nuclear weapon, V.P. Dick Cheney observed that the U.S. had to confront a new type of threat, a "low-probability, high-impact event". He is quoted as saying, "If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response."

    The contrast to how conservative leaders are responding to climate change is staggering. Researchers are approaching 97% certainty among scientific papers on climate, and the potential consequences are far worse than Al-Qeada detonating a nuclear device. So why the difference?

    The nuclear device would be detonated here, and Americans are convinced climate change will impact people over there, so why pay $500 more each year to save Bangladeshis, or Sri Lankans, or Malians. This indifference is made guilt free by leaders that tell us the science is not conclusive.

    Political correctness directs people to look at all sides critically, and treat all positions as equal, but in this case they are not. The fact is that current conservative thinking is directed at developing economic and moral arguments that justify selfishness and make indifference to the suffering of others guilt free.