Author Judith Finlayson writes about her research in a new book that takes conventional wisdom about the origins of chronic disease and turns it upside down. Rooted in the work of the late epidemiologist Dr. David Barker, it highlights the research showing that heredity involves much more than the genes your parents passed on to you. Thanks to the relatively new science of epigenetics, we now know that the experiences of previous generations may show up in your health and well-being.
I probably won’t read it, but it does seem to suggest that World War One could very well account for my current condition.
I was right. Freed of gravity in the pool, every bone and joint, every muscle, even my arthritic little finger, stopped hurting. To my mind, if heaven existed it would have to be nothing more than a surcease from pain. And perhaps a pile of good books. The pile would not have to be all that big. My memory is so poor I can’t remember all the details of the best literature I’ve read, and I love rereading and rediscovering.
It’s like returning to a forgotten favourite place, finding it completely unchanged, yet observing things about it you know were there, but you never really noticed before.
I have just received in the mail the latest posthumously published complete volume of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea collection. The novel that became a trilogy then five, then six novels plus more short stories. I have written before that this work, along with Tolkien’s Hobbit tales, contains, in my opinion, all one needs to know about being a decent human being, without the crappy trappings and hypocrisy of religion.
But I digress. I spent a full three hours in the pool today, despite the rain, and despite the water being the coolest I have experienced since I started swimming there. I was not swimming the whole time. Over an hour was spent leaning on a lane marker in conversation with two delightful people on a wide range of subjects from travel to racism and fish and chips and depression and exercise. I hope I meet them both again.
Returning to gravity was as unpleasant as always. I could hardly climb into the car. A quick trip to Aldi turned into an exhausting trek, and I’m buggered. In fact, it is now mid afternoon and I think I may have a late lunch of slow cooked vegetable soup and spend the rest of the day in bed with Ursula.
In Australia there is now widespread public acceptance of the reality of climate change; we seem to see its effects almost hourly.
But the electorate still votes for political parties with environment policies that I would call recalcitrant, and with significant groups of climate deniers in their ranks.
The issue of climate change has become a battle of ideologies, values and worldviews, something that has become much more pronounced in the last decade thanks to our political class and to parts of the media.
Knowing what we know about human beings, our psychological and evolutionary makeup, there’s no evidence that these divisions are going to be broken down by more scientific evidence or just the passage of time — not that we have much time to spare.
And we should not assume that as climate change becomes worse, these divisions will start to heal.
For these reasons, I have long been keen to understand the ways people respond to climate change — and the language we need to use to convince people to take action.
Much of what they do is informed by the Six Americas study, a segmentation first conducted in 2009.
It measures the American public’s climate change beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, motivations, values, policy preferences, behaviours — including voting patterns and media consumption — and underlying barriers to action.
It groups the public into six different segments, varying in size and well differentiated in terms of their attitudes to climate change and their views about action.
The Alarmed: This group is fully convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and already taking individual, consumer, and political action to address it.
The Concerned: This group is also convinced that the globe is warming and that it’s a serious problem, but have not yet engaged with the issue personally, including not always voting for political parties with strong climate policies.
The Cautious, the Disengaged and the Doubtful: These groups represent different stages of understanding and acceptance of the problem. None are actively involved.
The Dismissive: This group is very sure that climate change is not happening, and often actively involved as opponents of a national effort to reduce emissions. Some of them are in significant positions of power in government, industry and the media.
As someone who has spent about 15 years listening to Australians talk about climate change, this approach immediately resonated with me. It made sense.
The qualitative research I’ve done has revealed the extent to which attitudes about climate are informed not by an understanding of science, but by world views, values, political identification, social and cultural conditioning and gender identity.
As I contemplated this Six Americas study, the mammoth task of the climate change movement was taking shape in my mind.
We need to increase the Alarmed cohort, absolutely no doubt.
But we also need to develop and hone their skills of talking to others not of the same mindset.
We need to shift more of the Concerned group into the Alarmed group.
We need to find a way to convince the Cautious that urgent action is necessary.
This, very difficultly, often requires language that isn’t fraught with tones of crisis. More on this in a moment.
We need to engage the Disengaged — probably the hardest task of all, because it requires us to rebuild their faith that our democratic institutions are capable and willing to do something about it.
And finally — in my opinion, and I say this with no trepidation whatsoever — we need to drive the Dismissive group out of positions of power in our government, stop the flow of their donations into our political parties, and find smarter ways to engage with them in the media, including social media.
What underpins our response to climate change?
There is an Australian version of the Six Americas study, led by Donald W Hine from the University of New England.
It took a similar approach and came up with five groups — which echo the Yale segments but without the Disengaged.
It was conducted in 2013 — a relatively long time ago given all that’s happened since — but remains highly valuable because it takes into account a broader range of cognitive and emotional factors that underpin human responses to climate change.
How close do people feel to climate change effects?
Do they see local manifestations or not, and do they identify them as being connected to climate change?
Do they feel an emotional connection to nature?
How much do they trust climate change authorities or authorities in general?
How much do their self-reported feelings of shame, guilt, anger and fear condition them to respond in certain ways to the climate change issue and remain open or closed to solutions?
These people can have a strong belief that the issue is overplayed by the media and “politicised”.
They dislike the gloom and doom tone of the debate, its remote and inaccessible language, and the fact they feel guilty and depressed when listening to climate change messages.
They rightfully question whether our political and business leaders have the capacity or the desire to ensure that any transition to an economy built on renewables doesn’t penalise already struggling groups in our society.
My research has taught me important lessons about climate change communication: be solution-focused and positive, understand the values of the people you are trying to convince, do not fuel division and conflict, and relate solutions to our sources of happiness and common concern.
The challenge is how to activate cooperative values rather than competitive values.
In my view, we must stress what we have in common: the desire for secure work, safe neighbourhoods, a good standard of living, security and happiness — whatever that might look like for different groups of people.
A transformative moment
We also need to find ways to shift those in the large Concerned segment into the Alarmed cohort.
A moment from my own recent past shows it is possible.
In December 2018 I woke up, made myself a cup of coffee and turned on the TV.
I saw hundreds of teenagers skipping school and protesting in the streets about climate change, with handmade signs that spanned from the serious and angry to the humorous and profane.
“There are no jobs on a dead planet.” “You’re burning our future.” And my favourite: “Why should we go to the school if you won’t listen to the educated?”
This transformative moment, the moment I tipped from concerned to genuinely alarmed, didn’t happen because I read an ICCP report or sat through a presentation from a climate scientist about CO2 levels.
I reacted to a crowd of children holding up signs in the streets, girls who were only a few years older than my eldest daughter. Suddenly it became very personal.
That I can make a contribution to this movement, probably the most important in our history, is such a relief to me and helps me manage the angst that overwhelms me from time to time in the night.
My first task is to understand how we maintain our optimism as we move deeper into a climate change-affected future.
I, we, can protest, change the terms of our super fund, install solar panels, and vote for parties with strong climate policies — or any climate policies, really.
But one of the most important things we can do is understand why other people feel the way they do about climate change, and learn to talk to them effectively.
What we need are thousands, millions, of everyday conversations about climate change.
That will help enlarge the ranks of the Concerned, engage the Disengaged and make the Cautious more convinced of the need for action.
This will then expose those who dismiss both the science and the solutions, the denialists — who are today a minority, albeit a powerful one — as what they are: out of step with the rest of us, determined to put our collective wellbeing and our way of life at risk.
We must not let their voices be the loudest in the public arena.
We must create a chorus of different communities united in asking, indeed demanding, that we act now to preserve a liveable world and a viable future.
This article is an edited extract of the MSSI Oration given by Rebecca Huntley at the University of Melbourne. It was recorded and broadcast by ABC RN’s Big Ideas program.
Dr Huntley is one of Australia’s foremost researchers on social trends. She is an adjunct senior lecturer at the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. She also presents The History Listen on RN each week.
….. we have evolved massive creative brains, capable of planning and predicting the future, of invention and creativity, and this had helped us extract ourselves from many of the historical shackles of natural selection. We have externalized the stomach with the invention of cooking, so we don’t have to digest a whole range of chewy molecules, because they are already partly broken down by our unique control of elemental fire. We have bypassed many aspects of a life of nomadic sustenance, as well as hunting and gathering, by settling and domesticating all manner of beasts of the field and plants of the ground. This also has changed our culture, technology, and even our genes. We have radically eliminated diseases that scythed down ancient populations with casual indifference — plagues, malarias, cancers, pestilence. Smallpox once killed hundreds of thousands every year. Since the 1980s, as a result of vaccination, there have been no cases of smallpox. Polio looks set to follow soon as a disease only of interest to historians. These sorts of evolutionary pressures have been radically altered as a result of invention and science and the technology that has come about through our own evolutionary trajectory.
From: A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes Author: Adam Rutherford Publisher: Orion Publishing Group Copyright 2016, 2017 by Adam Rutherford.
I’m living on the second largest sand island in the world. As far as I can tell, the only thing stopping it from washing back into the sea is a dense matrix of vegetation roots. I was thinking about this at 04:00 this morning, as I sat and watched the most spectacular show of lightning I’ve seen since I left the Kimberley.
I think that may have been the heaviest rainfall since I moved here. Now that I’m going nautical again I’ve started taking an interest in the weather, so I have subscribed to a few apps that keep me up to date with wind rain and tides. Watching the rain on radar, it was pleasing to see it was heading southwest to where it will no doubt be welcome in the Burning Lands.
The storm reminded me of the rain that fell while I was camped at Inskip Point, which resulted in the flood that damaged the caravan undercarriage. Also causing a huge sinkhole. This time, fortunately it hasn’t lasted as long and did not result in a flood.
I went through the archives to see exactly when that was, and could not find it. For months I did not write in my blog. Everything was posted on Facebook. Now lost.
What kind of journal keeper forgets to keep his journal – and worse – deletes all his notes?
How cool is modern technology? When I gained my navigation certificate, GPS tech was a closely guarded military secret. Now, not just a GPS, but my phone and my iPad can tell me where I am and can carry the tide tables and Marine Charts of all the world. When I had a set of charts for New Zealand alone they filled a cabinet. Now a full set of charts covering Australia and New Zealand occupy an imaginary space in a piece of plastic and rare earth metals smaller than my little fingernail.
I am a pluviophile. I love the rain. Especially tropical rain.
Walking in the rain, getting soaking wet…
My weather app tells me there is a thirty percent chance of rain. Considering it has been raining heavily for over ten hours , I consider the app to be 70% wrong.
I went to sleep to the lovely sound of heavy rain on my roof, and woke to it this morning. The kookaburra didn’t seem to mind either. He gave a rousing burst of song at 05:40 on the dot, just as I was pouring my first coffee. The frogs are happy too. I can hear at least three species announcing their sexual availability.
My neighbour’s coughing fit was without a trace of Strauss today, though I might have caught a phrase or two of Coltrane. He was soaked on his morning pilgrimage to the ablution block and back. I cheated, I went to the rear corner of my caravan where I am screened from public view, and peed into the stream flowing past my bicycle and through the fence down into the creek. I still got wet. And I still have to go to the ablution block sooner or later.
Last night I went to the Rangla Punjab Wednesday night buffet. All you can eat for twenty dollars. I tried a little of every curry as well as the raitas and pickles. Everything, from the rice and naan to the samosas and bhaji were excellent. The mango lassi was outstanding. That was extra, but well worth four dollars. I tried very hard not to overdo it, but I blew my calorie budget for the first time since I started counting them. I don’t regret it. I shall do it again, though not regularly. Perhaps only when Wednesday coincides with a special occasion.
Yesterday’s occasion was that I now have a recreational marine drivers licence (RMDL). What the rest of the country calls a skipper’s ticket. That I’ve had a boatmaster and coastal yachtmaster ticket in NZ since 1979 did not matter to Queensland Transport. I still had to pass a local course and get certified before they’d grant me a licence. Done and dusted all in one morning yesterday.
Now I can take out the tinnie I bought on line while drunk at Christmas. Kidding. I arranged to view it on Boxing Day. I agreed to buy it. Perfect for my needs, which is code for all I can afford.
I see a lot of quibbling on the internet and in letters to the editor about the current bushfire crisis. “It’s not really climate change that is the cause; the fires were started by youthful arsonists; by lightning”. Yeah, whatever.
How the fire starts is irrelevant, whether it was from a badly placed barbecue or a deliberately thrown Molotov cocktail matters not one whit. There have always been bushfires. Sometimes really bad ones. Some deliberate, some accidental, some natural. The point is that the conditions are now more and more such that once a fire starts, it’s increasingly, damnably hard to put out and spreads through the dry vegetation at an alarming pace that much of the wildlife and few humans on foot can outrun. The fires spread further and faster, and it is climate change that caused these conditions. Arguing against this scientifically established fact is not expressing an intelligent opinion, any more than maintaining that the sun, moon and stars all revolve around an earth placed squarely in the centre of the universe.
When science has established facts beyond doubt and has all the data necessary to prove it, there is room only for discussing the finer details of how globing warming may affect different geographies and circumstances. No way to say it is not really happening.
So I feel free to mock the deniers just as I would flat-earthers, creationists and iridologists. Because they are provably wrong. I don’t usually resort to the ad hominem because it is an admission of failure. However, I admit freely that I fail to understand how people don’t understand how science works.
Prove me wrong if you can. I’m willing to change my mind if the evidence is there. Lay it out.