Chapter Your viewpoint determines the future

Considering all the scientific evidence collected to support the global warming hypothesis, why is there still a huge range of opinions on what the future holds for us? An interesting way of viewing this problem has been presented by Professor John Adams at University College London. He suggests it is all down to how each individual views risk, in particular how we view 'nature' as a risk. Do we believe that nature is benign and able to take whatever we throw at it or do we think of it as malevolent, having the power to react harshly to our interference? As Douglas and Wildavsky (1983) ask and answer in their book, 'Can we know the risks we face now and in the future? No, we cannot, but yes, we must act as if we do.' We all have to predict what the risks are around us, both at the present time and in the future. This applies to anything from the risk of crossing the road to the risk of climate change from global warming. John Adams has developed 'four myths of nature' and 'four myths of human nature' and combined them to look at the range of individual responses to risk and uncertainty (Adams, 1995). What I have done here is to alter these myths slightly so they are more directly related to the issue of global warming. It must be remembered that these are just another way of appreciating how different people see the global warming hypothesis.

Nature benign

Nature benign

Nature ephemeral

Nature perverse/tolerant

The four myths of nature

Nature capricious

Adams (1995) suggest there are Four myths of nature which are shown in Figure 8:

1. Nature benign. Nature, according to this myth, is predictable, bountiful, robust, stable, and forgiving of any insults that humankind might inflict upon it. However violently it might be shaken, the ball always comes to rest in the bottom of the basin. If nature is benign in the context of human activity then it does not need to be managed and thus a non-interventionist approach can be taken.

2. Nature ephemeral. Nature is fragile, precarious, and unforgiving. It is in danger of catastrophic collapse thanks to human interference. The objective of environmental management must therefore be to protect nature from humans. This myth insists that people must tread lightly on the Earth and that the guiding management rule is one of precaution.

3. Nature perverse/tolerant. This is a combination of the first two myths. Within limits, nature can be relied upon to behave predictably. It is forgiving of modest shocks to the system but care must be taken not to knock the ball out of the cup. Regulation is required to prevent major excesses while leaving the system to look after itself in minor matters. This is the ecologist's equivalent of a mixed-economy model. The management style is interventionist.

4. Nature capricious. Nature is unpredictable. The appropriate management style is laissez-faire, as there is no point to management. The believer in this myth is an agnostic concerning nature as the future may turn out to be good or bad, but in any event it is beyond any human control.

Individuals base their views on many factors: on their own belief system, their own personal agenda (either financial or political), or whatever is expedient to believe at the time. However, og the basis to everyone's views of the global warming hypothesis is | determined by how we each perceive the world. Cultural j| geographers and sociologists have suggested a grid system to look Ü at individual beliefs. One axis on the horizontal from left to right is a measure of how human nature can vary from an individualist to a more collectivist point of view, while the vertical axis varies from the top 'Prescribed Inequality', a measure of the amount of restrictions one feels is imposed by a superior authority, assuming of course that all social and economic transactions are characterized by inequality. At the bottom, 'Prescribing Equality', there are no externally prescribed constraints on choice and people negotiate the rules as they go along. Combining these two axes produces four myths of human nature which can then be combined with our views of nature.

The four myths of human nature associated with this grid are shown in Figure 9.

1. Individualists are enterprising 'self-made' people relatively free from control by others, who strive to exert control over their



Prescribing Equality

9. Four myths of human nature


Prescribing Equality

9. Four myths of human nature environment and the people in it. Their success is often measured by their wealth and the number of followers they can command. Victorian mill owners or self-made oil barons are good representatives of this category.

2. Hierarchists, who inhabit a world with strong group boundaries and binding prescriptions. Social relationships in this world are hierarchical and everyone knows his or her place. Soldiers, civil servants, and certain kinds of scientist are exemplars of this category.

3. Egalitarians have strong group loyalties but little respect for externally imposed rules, other than those imposed by nature. Group decisions are arrived at democratically and leaders rule by



Prescribing Equality


Prescribing Equality

¡3 10. Four rationalities force of personality and persuasion. Environmental pressure groups are a classic example of this category.

4. Fatalists have minimal control over their own lives. They belong to no groups responsible for decisions that rule their lives. They are resigned to their fate and everyone else's, and see no point in trying to change it.

These two sets of myths can be related to each other to explain what type of person is likely to believe which myth of nature (see Figure 10). What I have done in Figure 11 is to overlay some of the possible climatic changes that could occur as a result of global warming, changes which were discussed in Chapter 1. Now, for fun, you should try putting the following people on the global warming belief chart: yourself, President George Bush, a Greenpeace spokesperson,

Prescribed Inequality

C02 forcing^r response ?





CO2 forcing


CO2 forcing linear response linear response

Prescribing Equality

11. Combined global warming scenarios with myths of human nature and a cotton farmer in a less-developed country. Also, when you have read Chapter 8 about the different groups involved in the Kyoto Negotiations, it may be of interest to see where each group lies on the global warming belief chart. By looking at global warming in this way it shows that there are clear reasons why those who do not believe in the threat of global warming may never believe in it until it is too late, because they have their own view of nature and thus perceive that there is a low potential risk of future climate change. We must also remember that individuals can be extremely fluid in their beliefs, particularly when it comes to risk and uncertainty. People will, thus, shift in their opinion depending on the evidence put forward. A classic example of this was in the mid-1990s when journalists asked me if global warming was occurring and whether I would be prepared to defend it; now, by contrast, they ask how bad it will get. What I hope to do during the rest of the book is try to shift your belief from the left-hand side of og the global warming belief chart to the right. Or, if you are already on | the right-hand side of the chart, show you why your instinctive view j| of nature may well be correct. 5

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  • mai aoyama
    I have thought if nature was intervened by humans, it would not be nature any more. In Japan, we have protected the coast lines and river banks with something artificial. (It's a blot on the landscape) Looking these sights, i wondered what nature meant. (mentioned above)<br /><br />A person like me without any knowledge on global warming feel it might be easy to be manipulated if it comes to risk and uncertainty.
    9 years ago

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