Shaping the Weather or Selling Umbrellas?

It is a truism to say that we live in interesting times. As is clear, we are living through a period of great change with everything that is associated with Brexit. The political dilemma that is being played out before us is seemingly intractable, though it must at some point be resolved one way or another.

It seems to me that we have two basic options before us. Either we rise to meet the challenges that we face, or we run the risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer forces of the changes that are overtaking us? Will we allow these changes to over-take our lives in an unplanned and chaotic way, and leave us following in their wake, or will we get ahead of them so that we can start to lead on them?

The challenges of reconciling the desire to leave or remain in the European Union, which are finely balanced between relatively equal numbers of people, present us with a quandary. Both the desire and the practical operation of leaving the European Union is testing our social discourse to its limits.

There is a bitterness and rancour in the air that pervades all levels of the debate, as the assumptions that each is based on are pulled apart, explored, challenges, tested, thrown back, and argued over. Future generations will reflect on the poor process of deliberation that has been followed in carrying out this debate, and the unnecessary animosity that it has generated.

Putting a common sense of purpose back together will take a long time, and any expectation that this matter will be easily settled once a few immediate milestones have been reached is simply wishful thinking. The topic of Brexit is going to be with us for some time.

Perhaps an analogy might be useful to help explore and frame this issue in an easier and less inflammatory way. While Brexit is consuming the full attention of members of parliament and the media, there is another crisis that is looming full-speed at us, which is not getting the attention that it deserves, and that is climate change.

The effects of a changing climate are around us. They are being felt in different ways in different parts of the world. From significantly colder than average winters in North America, to extreme and dangerous summer temperatures in Australia, to an early spring here in the UK that has set record temperatures for February.

How we prepare and plan for these general changes in the climate is now crucially important, as our expectations about the type of weather we can anticipate at different times of the year are knocked off their typical rhythmical patterns.

On the one hand, and on a day-to-day basis, we have to anticipate what we need to be ready for when we leave our homes. While on the other hand, we have to think about the longer-term trends and the shifting patterns of weather that reduce the certainty we have that what we have experienced before is what we will get again in the future.

It seems that we are going to experience more extreme weather periods that will result in either colder, hotter, wetter, windier or drier periods. The problem is that these will become less predictable, less stable, and more likely to occur in places that are least able to deal with them.

So, the battle is to look at ways to mitigate climate change on a global scale, with concerted action to reduce CO2 emissions, capture more carbon, reversing the drivers of climate disruption and hopefully prevent catastrophe.

However, in reality a lot of the approaches that are being taken to mitigate climate change are really akin to simply making changes and modifications to the design and suggested use of umbrellas or sunglasses. We are trying to deal with climate change simply by dressing differently for weather that we encounter on a daily basis.

While we need to be prepared as individuals to meet the weather as it comes to us, in reality nothing will be achieved by adopting different types of weather gear because they have absolutely no impact on climate change.

If all we do is use a different brand of umbrella, or shift from using photochromic or polarised sunglasses, then the global weather patterns that we are witnessing will remain completely unchanged.

Being prepared for the weather on a day to day basis is one thing, dealing with the global climate is a different magnitude of difficulty and challenge.  Our problems go much deeper than this.

The same is true of our media. Many of us want to bring about change in the way that our media works, and we want to reform our media so that it is better suited to the needs of our communities and our civic life.

The problem, just like Brexit and climate change, is that we have to understand the difference between that which we need to get about on a daily basis, and that which will tackle the underlying causes of an atrophying media culture that fails to serve the needs of the people it purports to serve.

As individuals we can carry a metaphorical umbrella with us and seek temporary protection from the storms of fake news and social media exploitation, but this can only offer temporary and partial protection.

Instead, we need to think about how we can tackle the crisis of the climate of overwhelming control that the large media corporations exert over our access to media, information and opportunities to discuss social values and social change.

If we are to reform our media, we will need to do more than simply buy-up a collection of umbrellas, raincoats and wellington boots. Instead, we need to tackle the overall causes of media stultification and domination and change the overall climate so that we don’t have to deal with the extremes of fake news, corporate self-interest, bias, and the many other recognised problems associated with our undemocratic media culture.