Image for Japan: the need for cultural change

Karl, Russell, Philip, Doug, Rik, Mary, Sam, David, Peter, Dick, Darren, Peter, Maate, Mark, Mike, Frank, Geoff, Chris, ‘an old guy’, Simon, Tomas, Jon, Shaun, Justa bloke, Alan, Trevor, Red Bob… and Mary and Marilyn… who have contributed to this particular discussion.

Just wished to point out the strong gender leanings of those who contribute to any discussions on energy futures. It happens every time. This is just an observation, I’m one of the majority, and very aware of it.

I’m stressing this phenomenon because I recently conducted a community survey asking concerned people about the deep down psychological factors (barriers) that inhibit them from making changes to their lives so as to live more sustainably. Now the results were very fascinating – by far the majority spoke of ‘lack of time in their lives’, second up came ‘our Western individualism’, third came ‘what to do with disposable incomes’.... and so on. But the most salient observation of all is that although the survey was presented to mixed audiences, 70 percent of the people who chose to participate were female. Many more women than men were drawn into contributing to that discussion.

Although this point may seem trivial at first sight, I think it gets to the core of the human dilemma we face. With our fascination and natural affinity with technology, we blokes primarily see the problems (and perceived solutions) in terms of technology change. “What’s the best technology to supply our energy needs?” And we are apt to get very absorbed and excited, and even upset or confrontational, over these issues.

Energy supply is, of course, a necessary discussion and I very much enjoy being part of it, but it represents perhaps a mere 10 percent of the human dilemma that confronts us. There is no escaping that a deep cultural shift is required for human civilisation to avoid a major collapse. The scale and speed of the problem is such that simple choices of technology, if carried out alone, will have almost no bearing on our collective futures, especially considering that the implementation time for technology and infrastructure change is typically around 20 years plus.

We’ve seen in the climate change debate that technical science, no matter how robust are it conclusions, almost has no bearing on what happens in society and in politics. Psychological denial and cognitive dissonance are so much more powerful than are any arguments about hard science or technology. Yet we keep hammering away futilely trying to persuade people on technology facts – as if the concrete facts matter most.

In amongst our cultural milieu, FEAR (of perceived risks such as nuclear or other accidents) is a very real thing and needs expression, even if fear is often totally out of proportion to actual risk. According to the World Health Organisation 3,000 humans die each and every day as a result of car crashes (that’s over 1,000,000 dead humans each year and many more maimed). Nearly all of us have lost a family member or friend or associate in a car smash. Those million deaths per year amounts to an awful lot of human trauma, yet, amazingly, we still choose to drive around in cars – and we choose to do even when much safer public transport choices are available. We accept the technology despite the horrendous costs. We don’t chain ourselves to car factories.

(An aside: Fear of nuclear energy is necessary and well placed, even though we know nobody who has died as a result of it and probably never will, but it has resulted in the high level safety regulations that has rendered nuclear energy much safer than it would otherwise be, almost such that it is almost non-competitive compared to other energy supply options.)

In summary, the future of the world is being determined primarily through masculine imagination and it is in our interests to be fully aware of this, because the future of the world lies not in technology change so much as in deep cultural change. It’s what is in our heads that is most important of all. To quote our old mate Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

He could have added that if we do, then all we’ll do is dig a deeper hole.

This comment was first published on this article, HERE.