DISCUSSION Perceiving is Seeing

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______26th June 2008
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by Tony Manwaring

I wrote about what could be done to close the “wide gap between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policy makers and the public”, identified by James Hansen.

(Incidentally, kudos to Worldwatch and to the UN Foundation for convening and hosting Hansen at the National Press Club: with thanks Dianne for the prompt!)
Today, I opened the Guardian to find quite possibly one of the coolest posters on climate change ever – which seems to me to go some way to creating the kind of materials that we need to at least start to bridge the gap Hansen describes.
The poster is sandwiched within a supplement on carbon storage schemes – which got me wondering about the merits of focussing on one particular technology, in tackling an issue which requires holistic and systemic thinking, is bedevilled by unintended consequences and unidentified feedback loops.  So I turned to the London Accord, which you can find on this very web-site:
Widespread adoption of this method of greenhouse-gas control may become economically feasible once the cost attached to carbon dioxide emissions moves above $45/tonne on a sustained basis. However, considerable technological development and resolution of critical legal issues will be essential before carbon capture and sequestration can come into widespread use.
There is also an interesting article on carbon offset schemes – which laments that they fall 30% short of delivering on their promises, leaving me wondering, given all the cynicism that abounds, that it can’t be all bad if the glass is,after all,  70% full and rising.
Later today, I heard Mark Moody-Stuart speak at our event with Leaders’ Quest– welcoming the recent CBI report by business on climate change, but stressing how important it is to build coalitions with NGOs to ensure that such interventions are as effective as possible.

Building a new and much more dynamic relationship between business, civil society and government is going to be vital to finding any solution, but there’s going to be more to it than that: how do we see the need to build that relationship in the first place?
And then I had the great joy of interviewing Arie de Gues for this website – author of ‘The Living Company’, perhaps one of the foremost business gurus of recent times.  The interview will be posted in due course but for now I just wanted to share some of the insights that this discussion suggested for thinking about how to close ‘Hansen’s gap’.  I hope I do him some justice in the summary that follows.
De Gues raises fascinating questions about the decision making process within institutions and the individuals that make them up.  He focusses on the moment of institutional perception, when an issue appears on the agenda of the senior management team, and the point when resulting action is taken.
He goes on to underline the importance of the organisation in accomodating to its environment, in reaching the point of perception by which means that it sees the problem and the way ahead – and he stresses the importance of language, which may first take the form of jargon in helping to create a mental picture, which helps this perception to be achieved: “if you don’t have a word for it, you don’t know it”
What then might this mean for climate change?
First it makes you question what is the ‘institution’ that needs to get the problem and solve it – individuals within organisations, across sectors, who make up society.
Second it suggests that perception will be come about when we can create a mental picture of both the problem, in a way that goes beyond a sense of impending doom, andthe solution, in a way that rejects the simplistic certainty of any single panacea.
And third, back to Mark Moody-Stuart, that we will only create that picture and the language that goes with it, by working together, across sectors, on a basis of mutual respect, creating shared solutions.
There’s a scene in Indiana Jones and the last Crusade where Indy needs to get over the yawning chasm to reach the Grail – and has to take the leap of faith of leaving one side of the chasm he is on, to find that his feet are then resting on the bridge which was there all along, to reach the other side.
If perceiving is indeed seeing, then that climate change poster may well be just as important a component in creating the mental picture we need to understand the issues we face and to see the way ahead.

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