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To shift or not to shift?
Does anyone know what this means… precisely?
“We need a paradigm shift to address the climate crisis!”
Versions of that exhortation exist through the literature and presentations, 70 years in the making so far, of environmentalists, activists, sustainability strategists, climatologists, advocates, sociologists, behavior scientists, doomsayers and others.
But, it’s very unclear what they are actually imploring us to do, other than to “wise up.”
What are we supposed to shift? Who is shifting? To where and from where are we shifting? Why? What parts of the status quo can we keep?
To be fair, climate scientists have been successful in proving that human enterprise is accelerating climate change, shifting us (64% of people privileged enough to be asked the question in 50 countries now say climate change is an emergency) from the world view that humans have no impact on the climate, if we thought about that at all.
That’s a shift in world view that best fits the observable data. It’s the lens by which we can make decisions that challenge other world views.
So, we are already shifted.
And, we are still in a climate crisis, worsening by the month.
“Ok, so we need a different paradigm shift!”
The vague hope of climate-worriers is that something, sometime, will somehow instantly provide the inflection point by which we wake up tomorrow shifted.
The whole idea is steeped in the promise of sacrifice — that finally all 7.7 billionof us will have come to our senses to give up something of value in order to get right with the biogeochemical processes of the planet that allow us to breathe. Generally, those sacrifices relate to wealth, convenience, status, access, health, dignity and freedom.
According to this paradigm, humanity lacks the moral integrity to make the hard choices. Even if we care plenty, we don’t care enough — all of which lays the responsibility for change at the feet of people are are already changed.
In a paradox, a sacrifice might also mean national security, when unshifted we also face national security threats with the climate crisis.
The climate worriers’ paradigm competes unsuccessfully with the powerful paradigm of the status quo — a world view that says, for example, “the economics of scarcity creates wealth — which is optimal.” This is the paradigm by which the whole world of nation states and global trade uses to make decisions that have consequence, like worsening human-accelerated climate change.
By this logic, the greatest amount of wealth is the complete depletion of our resources. I’m not sure how this is the best framework for the observable data, but that’s how we live as a global society.
It’s unshakeable so far. Super storms and extreme weather are not convincing. Migrating disease and global pandemics are not convincing. Global protests, not convincing. Worsening social strife and human dignity, not convincing. Shame and appeals for brighter futures for our children, not convincing. Scientists with decades of hard climate science, not convincing. Bad grape, coffee and chocolate harvests, not convincing.
What’s left in our quiver of arguments that is powerful enough to substantively shift the paradigm toward global behavior that provides the path to climate security?
Potential extinction of the human species, not convincing.
What is a paradigm?
It’s a category of prevailing ideas among a sea of other categories of ideas. Newton’s idea of physics was a paradigm, a collection of patterns, theories or standards that help us perceive reality. Newton’s theory (something sprung from his educated imagination) provided the guide to propel science, and still does in many cases, until Einstein provided a new paradigm in physics that fits better with the observable data.
Paradigms are intangible and notoriously imprecise. They don’t occur in nature. You can’t grow paradigms in your garden. They are fictions upon which we make real world decisions with real world consequence.
Your world view is that vaccines are suspicious and you refuse them out of principle. You are hospitalized with COVID-19, intubated and flirt with death. Your world view, your framework for making decisions, helps you navigate reality whether it’s sound or not.
Paradigms are divided into categories of philosophy including positivism, constructivism or interpretivism and pragmatism(paradigms about paradigms) helping us to organize information and understand our world. They extend from science outlooks to popular outlooks. They are muddled by bias.
If you believe the paradigm that “science is not to be trusted” then you are not going to believe that the climate science is accurate — at least accurate enough to impact your living standards, tax rate, net worth or the speed at which you burn fossil fuels.
Even the marching activists, as much as they are earnest in their concerns about global behaviors, will be hard pressed to jettison the behaviors they rely on that also drive, rather than constrain, the issues central to their anger.
No one is going to win a purity contest.
Paradigms are always shifting. They are inescapable because how we frame our existence on a big blue-green rock amid an endless universe is an exercise in testing, refining, retesting and shifting.
This article speaks to a paradigm espoused by Bank of Nature: We owe nature a debt that is unpaid. That’s the framework that best fits the observable data and is a lens by which we can make real world decisions that have real world consequence.
What is a paradigm shift?
The paradigm shifted from Newton to Einstein.
A paradigm shift, a concept identified by the American physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhnin 1962, is a fundamental change in basic concepts about how we understand. One paradigm can be replaced by another paradigm that explains the observable data better.
Kuhn’s original focus was on the creation, testing, and replacement of major scientific theories with better theories — closer approximations to the observable data. Today, the term has been popularized to refer to things as simple as beliefs, attitudes and tastes. In this sense, a paradigm is analogous to a set of glasses one puts on. If the lenses are yellow, we see the world as yellow. After a while, we forget we have decided to look at the world through yellow lenses — we simply believe that the world is yellow.
What stops a paradigm shift?
If the majority of the world believes climate change is an emergency (as the polls suggest) and if there is persuasive science that supports the idea that we are in climate trouble (as there is) and if there are alternatives to our present role in the climate crisis (as there are), we should be shifted to a better climate path. People change their minds with less evidence in other areas.
“We need to get out of the way of the climate paradigm shift!”
Something or someone doesn’t want us to shift toward a better climate paradigm.
That’s scary: That we might get stuck in a paradigm, proven to be old-fashioned, but maintained regardless. It’s scary in a world of iterative improvements that we can continue to iterate without change to the status quo. For example, we continue to explore and develop fossil fuel sources when we know what that means to our future.
There is a limit to the power of new paradigms and, with climate, we seem to be proving that point. My theory is that our allegiance to wealth (progress, power, entitlement) is more powerful than any new and persuasive paradigms that threaten that wealth narrative.
Potential extinction of the human species, not convincing.
Copernicusposited that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of our universe - literally changing our actual world view. He was not popular and faced mockery and hostility for challenging the prevailing theories. However, in our case, the prevailing theories make people very rich, powerful and entitled.
Copernicus was battling the church doctrines and not corporate capture, which is arguably the more formidable dogma to overcome.
This, however, is the scale we need to be thinking about as we ponder our climate-related paradigms and potential shifts and barriers to those shifts. What literally gets us to see the entire planet differently — specifically, how humans live upon it?
That’s where Bank of Nature has ideas — a sweeping change in perspective around a simple idea: Include a payment to nature in the economy, not as an aspiration or out of obligation but as a first-secured creditor, due interest.
How do we revolve around nature, not powerful other humans?
You can read more about Bank of Nature on this blog series.
Nature is the source of all of our wealth. Fact.
If we insist in continuing to put, above all else, our economic growth narrative (paradigm), the fix is to grow nature as another of our investors.
Bluntly put, I want to co-opt the old paradigm and make it work for climate — seeing that the new paradigms that show the way are, so far, unpersuasive.
This is the business plan of Bank of Nature, which urges a paradigm that says we get big because nature has gotten bigger.
Follow us to see how we plan to act on that paradigm. Better yet, help us build it.