The last two books i read were This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, and Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re wrong about the World by Hans Rosling. While Naomi’s book takes a dire tone and focuses on the need for urgent actions to combat climate change, Hans’s book uses data to explain how the world is really better than it seems. Just to be clear, the books do not contradict each other on the subject of global warming or climate change. Hans does not use data to deny the threat of climate change. He instead wants the reader to understand facts, understand data and then separate hyperbole from reality. That said, the way i felt after reading the books could not have been any different. Naomi’s book put me on the edge. It was deflating to realize that the small actions we do are just not enough to address the problem of reducing emissions. It left me mentally drained. I started to be overwhelmed by the sense of uncertainty around what would happen to the world. I started to take an increasingly pessimistic outlook. Hans’s book on the other hand starts off with a different strategy. He tries to make you understand that the world view you are holding on to may not be as accurate as you think and then starts using numbers to hone in various points. As you realize how wrong you are about certain things, it makes you believe you could be wrong about many other things and gives you a glimmer of hope. Moreover Hans’s book also gives you a framework that helps you look at issues differently and shows you ways to find solutions. It was remarkable to note the change in my behavior once my mind was able to overcome the irrational thoughts. I was able to get a handle on my irrational thoughts and was able to better process information and move forward again. The shift in mindset made me a little bit more open, the focus on issues differently. It was as if i was not afraid anymore.
Reprocessing “This Changes Everything”
The threat of climate change is as real as it gets, and Naomi is very correct in saying that if we do not correct the course of the ship, we will soon be in rough waters. There are several chapters in the book where she shows how the economics of capitalism is a major threat to action against climate change. Hans makes us realize that almost 82% of the energy comes from oil and gas sources, making it one of the richest industry in the world. As these companies look to maximize their profits and expand their footprint, they try to influence the governments for tax breaks and seek lesser regulations. The companies have brought jobs, have helped people move across income levels and helped build the modern world as we see it. But the cost of the damage to the ecological systems and the companies responsibility towards higher emissions are definitely causes of concern.
While it is tempting to portray this as a David vs Goliath problem, it is important to understand the reality of the systems. It is important to address the side effects of the drastic action and then weigh in on solutions. I recently watched Pete Buttigieg talk about the Keystone Pipeline. He acknowledges that killing off the project would mean loss of jobs but he also talks about the the need to move the workers to projects that help sustainable development. If there is no alternative proposed to the workers, how would anyone knowingly commit to lose their livelihood? Demanding accountability from the elected representatives and ensuring the companies invest on newer tech to reduce their carbon footprint is definitely a step in the right direction. But i think it is important to understand the scale of the problem, and continue to do what you can to reduce your carbon footprint. Several Large Oil Companies are now acknowledging Climate change and are investing in renewable energy systems. Local and city governments are adapting renewable sources and are focusing their investments on improving infrastructure. While these may not be meeting the drastic demands (of a few to completely stop carbon extraction), we simply cannot ignore the positive signs and effort put together by people.
The Fear Factor
In the age of internet, where we have unlimited access to information and everyday our minds try to process a ton of data. Unfortunately the ones that seem to stick are the ones that are controversial, the ones that are negative and the ones that promote fear. I started picking problems from the news and started to juxtapose them into my lives. I was looking to solve problems that did not exist and became stressed and afraid when my mind could not come up with solutions. Fear is remarkable, once it sets logic and reason are out of the window. Actions based on fear are there to help in fight or flight scenarios, but it is important to note these scenarios don’t apply for every day life decisions. So instead of using fear to guide day to actions let us take a step back and look to calm down. The two biggest takeaways for me were that it is important to seek new perspectives, even from the ones that you do not necessarily agree with, and the second one was on the nature of expertise. I had to accept the fact that there were many things i did not know anything about. In my case a lot of my anxiety and fear was from generalizing and not testing my ideas or perspectives with others.
As i was wrapping up the essay i realized that i was paraphrasing a lot of the authors i had read in the recent past Books such as Thinking Fast and Slow, Blink, Talking to Strangers focus on how our mind reacts to situations. Initial Impressions, Fast Thoughts and gut feel or Insight can make you take decisions without really thinking it through. It may look as if you have the all answers but on closer look you see the pitfalls to the approach. So if you think the people out there are wrong and you are right then test your ideas with an open mind, seek the experts out, do not limit the discussion of ideas to the ones that agree with you, use the general rules of factfulness to reorient yourself. That will help promote independent thought and stop unfounded beliefs. Crazy as it may sound i think if we all apply these simple rules on the controversial topics of today we may soon make the world a much better place.
P.S This Changes Everything is a fantastic read. Naomi Klein is a wonderful journalist who has done a fab job. When i read the book i was at an emotional low, so i was unable to process the information as she probably intended.