Climate Change – Our Watership Down Moment

By David Buttery -, CC BY-SA 2.5,
By David Buttery –, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Included on the 2016 butcher’s bill was our friend from the literary world, Richard Adams, and thusly I’d like to say a few words here regarding Watership Down as it relates to our present situation:

Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is first and foremost a literary examination of the phenomenon of science denial, superimposing the mechanics of climate change denial onto science subjects from the early eighteen hundreds, which, like the former at present, perhaps were a bit fuzzy or unfamiliar to the largely science illiterate public, and as a function of such, allowed opportunistic detractors to hold an undeserved level of perceived credibility then, as they do now.  We in the climate communications and advocacy community like to focus on these detractors because it’s rather simple to do so – there’s little effort in scapegoating the fellow with the horns singing, ’Ba-ha-ha!’ at the top of their lungs; they are indeed a credible goat to scape.

However, as we enjoy demonizing, say Exxon for funding climate denial and doubt, we are, in the end, the voluntary users of its product – all it does is facilitate the transaction.  We tend to forget about the collective actions of all human animals, whether they be – figuratively – goats, chicks, burrows, or rabbits, that too create an excessive paw-print upon the planet when such needn’t be so with but the smallest self reflection.  Most of us purchase cars, appliances, homes, and other energy and resource consumables with little thought concerning the efficiency of their use, even though it would be financially wise to do so, both personally and regarding the system as a whole: The market is full of ill advised consumers making irrational choices secondary to large advertisement campaigns, as well as cultural cues. We are indeed that gluttonous rabbit warren in Watership Down, that lived in the hutch near their morbid Garden of Eden.

And just like that warren of content over-consumers we too embrace the tacit agreement that from time to time one of us will be randomly knocked on the head and eaten to pay for the sins of the group.  Sometimes it’s a climate related storm, flood or famine that presents as the snare; other times it comes in the form of poisoned freshwater, or destroyed property values and maple syrup small businesses as the oil and gasman comes for one’s land; in the long run it will be an insatiably hungry taxman as the cost of running modern society soars in the face of climate disasters and resource depletion.

I had some casual thoughts on this back in February of 2014 on Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week blog I will reprint as follows:

There’s a section in the novel where the wandering rabbits chance upon a particular society who are all well fed and seemingly content. But the price to pay for that luxury was that every once in a while a member gets snared and eaten by the farmer whose food they gorge on. There is a tacit agreement in place that the luxury of over consumption will be randomly paid by members in catastrophic fashion. No one knows who’s next but they know the probability of it being them is low. This low probability randomness is the key feature to such an agreement.

So our society’s tacit agreement thus far goes something like: OK, you got hit by a flood; glad it wasn’t me; look at all the ways mass consumption makes life better. OK, you got hit by a drought; glad it wasn’t me; look at all the way mass consumption makes life better.

Except, because of the interconnectedness of society (further enhanced by globalization), as the frequencies of these events go up, the cost burden we all have to pay goes up, and such is no longer assigned to the sole random rabbit here and there.

And in closing let us briefly mention Fiver and his role of keeping his companions from getting knocked on the head in the face of environmental destruction.  We too have our visionaries in science – those able to create a model, test it, and then make future predictions based upon it – indeed a core tenant of science.  Our visionaries too paint a grim environmental picture and it would be wise for our particular warren to follow their instruction.  Thankee, Mr. Adams – thankee sir.