Monday, December 18, 2017

So What Climate Change Stories Would Sir Philip Sidney Tell

We here at Rabett Run might ask what Renaissance Literary Theory has to add to climate communications and, as it might occur, to the AGU Fall Meeting.  Turns out more than a bit.  While literary critics have the habit of not using Power Point presentations at their talk and writing out their talks (which has the advantage that they can be published immediately on Medium and elsewhere ), there is important content.  Dr. Genevieve Guenther talked in the Public Affairs session of the AGU meeting on the recommendations of Sir Philip Sidney, an Elizabethan poet, critic and soldier, for climate communication.

In @DoctorVive 's words, Sydney argues that 

. . . literature should be the most celebrated of all the human arts because it best teaches us how we should live. Sidney claims that teaching, by which he means the conveying of information, should not just impart knowledge, but serve to move people to what he calls the “ethic and politic consideration, with the end of well-doing and not of well-knowing only.” Indeed, Sidney thinks this moving is “well nigh the cause and the effect of teaching. For who will be taught, if he be not moved with desire to be taught? And what … good doth that teaching bring forth if it moveth one [not] to do that which it doth teach? For as Aristotle saith, it is not gnosis but praxis must be the fruit. And how praxis [can] be without being moved to practice, it is no hard matter to consider”
But, of course that leaves open what stories we should tell.  Just about all the discussions of climate communication have been operational.  Should there just be recitations of facts, inoculations, MOOCs, should only like proselytize to like to preserve cultural cognition?  Should there be more blockbuster films "showing women who look like Wonder Woman putting solar panels on their roofs? Well, not exactly -- or at least not only" as Doctor Vive says.

What would Sidney say?  Climate change as a tragedy as written by David Wallace Wells has limited appeal.  Why struggle in the second act when all die at the conclusion (Eli knows, yeah there was a line or two of hope at then end, but it basically was an environmental "On the Beach").  Should it be comedy, well no. . To quote again the message in a comedic framing would aim
not to scare people, but connect with them over shared values; next, show how climate change mitigation upholds those values; and, finally, end your message with hope. Thinking about this from a literary critical perspective, I wonder whether ending on a note of hope -- saying, for example, “but we can solve this crisis: we have the technology!” or “but there’s good news, the price of solar has dropped X percent in the past Y years” -- is actually to end your message with a comedic resolution, which is to say a relief of tension, a sort of exhale -- a “whew!,” if you will -- denaturing the driving irresolution that sustains ongoing action.
 In other words, it's all going to be fine at the end so why struggle. 

Which pretty much leaves the epic as the best form.  As Genevive points out, in an epic there is a heroic figure who struggles, motivates people who struggle and they all triumph at the end.  An epic is a journey, with a glowing conclusion of which all are proud. 

Go read the long form.

5 comments:

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

After five centuries, Shakespeareans are still waiting for reports of hurricane damage from the seacoast of Bohemia

Fernando Leanme said...

I want to contribuye my climate haiku

It is getting warm
The earth is a lot greener
Kiribati sinks

Brian Schmidt said...

I think the comms used to get the public to spend money on the military during the Cold War would provide lessons.

Bernard J. said...

As with your climate science, your haiku is technically not a haiku.

Steve Bloom said...

In what world would Fernando have wanted to learn the proper pronunciation of the name of a place like Kiribati? Only when the worms begin to suffer...