Image: Lis Bastian
When the Greeks voted this week to reject the austerity measures in the terms of the eurozone bailout they were taking a major gamble.
Since at least 1989 (and probably longer) the United Nations, scientists and activists have also taken many gambles when they’ve offered differing time frames to the public on how long humanity has to respond to the threat of climate change.
10 years ago, in December 2005, NASA scientist James Hansen warned that we only had 10 years before we would reach a Tipping Point beyond which we would no longer be able to stop the catastrophic accelerated warming of the planet. 
What both the Greeks and the scientists were doing were gambles because neither could predict how their audiences would react to their ultimatums.
Sadly, in the case of the climate predictions, climate deniers have had a field day with the varying time frames presented . Most importantly, their media influence on the community has, in some cases, had the opposite effect to the one anticipated by the scientists. As I write, Greece’s fate is still to be decided.
10 years ago, Hansen’s climate Tipping point prediction initially motivated me to dedicated, and almost frantic, action. This was then followed by a period of disbelief (I had assumed everyone would rise to the challenge!) and then despair – that it was all too late because the 10 year window of opportunity was drawing to a close.
In her 2006 article which described social transformation as “The Thirteenth Tipping Point”, Whitty suggested that even well intentioned citizens begin to focus on family-size problems and appear indifferent because the looming global calamities are so overwhelming that denial is their only way to cope. 
Whitty believed, however, that a human tipping point could be reached, particularly if our complacency and denial weren’t being fuelled by a compromised media. 
Whitty wrote of the need to envision a better future: “History proves that when we behold a better world, we move toward it, leaving behind what no longer works.”  Journalist Walter Lippman has written , “The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do.” 
10 years after Hansen’s address to the American Geophysical Union, and 9 years after Whitty’s Thirteenth Tipping Point article, signs are appearing that 2015 may well mark the point in history when humanity actually does begin to shift en masse to the Thirteenth Tipping Point.
Whitty wrote that humans can adapt quickly and history has precedents for rapid social change, initiated by individual citizens and magnified by visionary leaders . Rayner has argued that:
“every major social transformation, from the Age of Revolutions to the present day, has been driven by a catalytic swarm. Swarm movements do not expend their energies by contesting the status quo. They reinvent it. Norms slide in all directions and political institutions are forced to keep up.” 
Some of the comments I’ve made above are included in the paper I’m delivering at the International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference at Deakin University this coming Saturday. The conference’s theme is “The Tipping Point: Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity”.
This is how the theme is being described:
“Whilst the tipping point is typically regarded as a point ‘of no return’, especially in ecology and climate science, our call repositions the notion of the tipping point as a ‘point of transformation’, into comparably more hopeful settings, e.g. a point when things start to change for the better. In terms of sustainability, this is when the various efforts towards sustainability reach a collective crescendo. It is at this point sustainable behaviour (however defined) becomes the norm rather than the exception. Whilst incremental efforts towards change appear to make little difference, a point may be reached at which the final tiny addition provides a positive change – sustainable attitudes and behaviour become the norm rather than the exception. We need the positive tip to happen before a catastrophic negative one occurs.” 
In my conference paper I’m proposing that we can’t reach the Thirteenth Tipping Point with our current ‘compromised media’  and that, instead, we need to focus more on Solutions Journalism as part of a broader change strategy, to share the capacity building stories we need to help each other change en masse.
Signs that this is happening are emerging daily.
Just this week Positive News in the United Kingdom surpassed its crowdfunding target of 200,000 pounds in their www.OwnTheMedia.org campaign. Donors have become shareholders in the oldest English language solutions journalism website which was started by Shauna Crockett-Burrows in 1993. Its byline is “Inspiration for Change.” It has now officially become a media cooperative. 
On July 4, Ross Gittins, the Economics Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald wrote “World less scary when you look behind the news.” 
On the same day New Scientist reported:
“OPTIMISM is in the air. Some environmentalists are shrugging off their perennial doom and gloom, and daring to think the possible – that we are not done for. After half a century of despair since the publication of Silent Spring, The Limits to Growth and The Population Bomb, the green shoots of ecological redemption can sometimes be seen between hard covers. It is a welcome relief.” 
Like many others, over the last few years I’ve made various attempts, like this blog (started in April 2007), to focus on providing positive, solutions based news stories in order to counter the negative bias of mainstream news. I’ve shared and written stories reflecting the extraordinary amount of work actually being done around the world to come up with solutions to our many problems – social, environmental and economic.
In 2010, I started a news blog for 17 Central NSW Councils, and their communities, called The Shiny Halo. (It’s undergone numerous changes and is now called The Square Deal.) 
The goal of The Shiny Halo was to tell 7 stories a week to show what Individuals, Community Groups, Businesses, Organisations, Schools, Councils and Centroc were doing to ‘take action for a resilient future’.
For visitors who posted comments about positive actions they’d taken we planted a tree in Central NSW.
In January 2011, I started a blog called The Big Fix as part of a campaign to Save the Kimberley in Western Australia. Its stories were designed to encourage people to Fix, Share, Design, Grow, Get Political, Save, Get Inspired and Enjoy. 
A year later, in 2012, I started a blog for Varuna, the Writers’ House.
In memory of Dr Eric Dark (husband of the writer Eleanor Dark), it focused on Doctors Who … create, innovate, advocate and collaborate to build the health of the nation. While this wasn’t a news site, it was still working on the principle of sharing positive actions to inspire further positive action.
I am currently rebuilding The Big Fix based on a conceptual model and strategy that I’m developing in my thesis. In the meantime I’ve reactivated The Big Fix facebook page to share stories there.
The seeds of optimism are energising. We don’t, however, have time to keep reinventing the wheel – our need to share what we know and pool resources is greater than ever before in the history of life on earth .
In December 2012 writer Naomi Klein attended a Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, the same influential group addressed by James Hansen in 2005. She described the session creating the most buzz as that being given by complex systems researcher Brad Werner. It was called “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism.” [12, p.449]
The professor took everyone through his advanced computer modelling of complex systems and demonstrated that “global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient, and barrier-free that ‘earth-human systems’ are becoming dangerously unstable in response.” In other words, as he answered when questioned, earth is “more or less” f**cked. 
One dynamic in the model, which Werner described as “resistance” or “friction” offered the only hope to “slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control.” [12, p.450]
Like Rayner and Werner, Klein also believes that this “resistance”, in the form of mass social movements, is the only thing that can save us now. She goes on to write that
“when major shifts in the economic balance of power take place, they are invariably the result of extraordinary levels of social mobilization … During extraordinary historical moments – both world wars, the aftermath of the Great Depression, or the peak of the civil rights era – the usual categories dividing ‘activists’ and ‘regular people’ became meaningless because the project of changing society was so deeply woven into the project of life. Activists were, quite simply, everyone.” [12, p.459]
In talking about the new stories we need to tell to replace the ones that have failed us Klein goes on to say that
“we will need to start believing, once again, that humanity is not hopelessly selfish and greedy – the image ceaselessly sold to us by everything from reality shows to neoclassical economics.” 
She suggests that perhaps,
“part of the reason so many of us have failed to act is not because we are too selfish to care about an abstract or seemingly far-off problem – but because we are utterly overwhelmed by how much we do care? And what if we stay silent not out of acquiescence but in part because we lack the collective spaces in which to confront the raw terror of ecocide?” 
She then goes on to say,
“we are so much more than we have been told we are – that we long for more and in that longing have more company than we ever imagined.” [12, p.465]
In the last paragraph of her book Klein was contemplating an interview with then opposition leader in Greece, Alexis Tsipras. When consulting with her Greek friends about what she should ask him, one friend suggested “Ask him: History knocked on your door, did you answer?” 
Klein finished her book with “That’s a good question, for all of us.” [12 p.466]
I’ll finish this post with a quote that Klein used to start her book’s last chapter:
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented society’ to a ‘person-oriented society.’ When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” 1967 [12, p. 449]
So, here I am after everyone else has gone to bed, still tapping away at the keys. My personal action for today has been to switch off the heating and put on my polar fleece jacket – no point warming a whole house for one person!
- Hansen, J. (2005). Is There Still Time to Avoid ‘Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference’ with Global Climate? A Tribute to Charles David Keeling. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Columbia University Earth Institute New York. Presentation on December 6, 2005 at the American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, California. Retrieved from www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2005/Keeling_20051206.pdf
- Bastasch, M. (5 April, 2015) 25 Years of Predicting The Global Warming ‘Tipping Point’. Daily Caller News Foundation. Retrieved from http://dailycaller.com/2015/05/04/25-years-of-predicting-the-global-warming-tipping-point/
- Whitty, J. (2006). The Thirteenth Tipping Point. Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2006/11/thirteenth-tipping-point
- Bornstein, D., (2011). Why ‘Solutions Journalism’ Matters, Too. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/20/why-solutions-journalism-matters-too/?_r=0
- Rayner, T., (2011). Swarm Movement. P2P foundation. Retrieved from http://p2pfoundation.net/Swarm_Movement
- 21st International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference. (n.d.) Deakin University Australia. Retrieved from http://www.isdrsconference.org/
- Positive News. Retrieved from http://positivenews.org.uk/
- Gittins, R. (4 July, 2015). World less scary when you look behind the news. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/gittins-world-less-scary-when-you-look-behind-the-news-20150703-gi47tz.html
- Pearce, F. (2015). A welcome dose of environmental optimism. NewScientist. 3208. Retrieved from http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22730280.500-a-welcome-dose-of-environmental-optimism.html?utm_source=NSNS&utm_medium=SOC&utm_campaign=hoot&cmpid=SOC%257CNSNS%257C2015-GLOBAL-hoot#.VZucbabTpbq
- The Square Deal Blog, (n.d.). Retrieved from www.centroc.com.au/squaredeal/
- The Big Fix, (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.thebigfix.com.au
- Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything. Melbourne, Australia: Penguin. 449-466.