Monday 23 November 2009

knowing where you're coming from

What Mike Hulme does in his new book Why We Disagree About Climate Change is a little like what Elliot Kupferberg, the Peter Bogdanovich character (pic), does in The Sopranos.

Both pick away at the seeming neutrality of the authority figure and reveal a dynamic that's more complicated and human.

The central thread of The Sopranos is the relationship between the volatile Mafia boss, Tony Soprano, and his immaculately composed psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi. Tony Soprano leads a violent and emotional life and once a week he explains how he feels about things to the rational and detached Dr Melfi.

But psychiatrists themselves go to see psychiatrists, so it's a dramatic moment when the tables turn, and Dr Melfi discusses her own troubles with her psychiatrist (played by Bogdanovich).

In the same way, Hulme argues in Why We Disagree About Climate Change that the climate change debate isn't simply about rational people trying to get irrational people to see some sense. Everyone who joins the climate change debate is operating within sets of values that need to be examined and understood.

These values inform our attitudes, for instance, to risk, science, justice, nature and culture. How we think about these subjects will largely determine how we think about climate change. We also tend to interpret the world (however subconsciously) through the great literary or Biblical narratives. And these stories resonate in very different ways.

To be effective in this climate change discussion, perhaps like psychiatrists, we need to find out first where we're coming from.

(A discussion of Mike Hulme's Why We Disagree About Climate Change takes place in London this evening as part of the Mediating Change Project.)

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