LOCAL | Memes and Youmes

Posted on 15/11/2011

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Sustainable Jamboree hosted a free public screening of Carbon Nation and Beyond Zero Emissions at Chermside Library on the weekend. Carbon Nation, an American film, is billed as showcasing climate change solutions, including wind farming, geo-thermal, recycling, organic farming and green jobs initiatives. It’s a very engaging and communicative film that allays some of the misconceptions about carbon pollution in an entertaining way. The initiatives profiled are foundational to the transition to a post-carbon economy. Carbon Nation was a refreshing film, highlighting positive change driven by entrepreneurialism, opportunity, concern and insight, that also explained the importance of a price on carbon. The film celebrated the individual initiative coupled with community spirit that seems to underpin American culture that, in turn, seems somewhat underrepresented in America’s political and media institutions. For example, Cliff Etheredge, West Texas cotton farmer turned wind farmer, was able to work with small land holders to introduce wind farming, offering those farmers a regular income and livelihood in the face of poor cotton yields. Then, Van Jones, civil rights advocate turned green jobs organiser and advocate, founded Green For All which is working to introduce green jobs to disadvantaged communities. Focused on the team efforts of the Beyond Zero Emissions Research Project, the Australian produced Zero Carbon Australia profiles an achievable plan to Repower Australia with 100% Renewable Energy. Predicated on the pursuit of ‘better ways’, these initiatives demonstrate the how support and energy for change has been coalesced and actioned. These films do more than present alternatives – they are propagating powerful memes through the negotiation of the local, national and global nexus.

For sure, Australia, even Brisbane, even Aspley, can learn from this drive for change by enabling more people in the community to take initiative: by providing tools and platforms for risk taking, spirited exploration and change making. The move away from protest and opposition, as the prevailing meme for ‘discussion’ with our governments and other decision makers, is long overdue. Zero Carbon Australia characterises the quality of political and corporate decision making regarding climate change and energy as expedient and cautious. Carbon Nation makes it clear that we all have a stake, that we all have something to contribute and that vested interests go to great lengths to crush initiative, inspiration and innovation. However, it’s not just about big ideas, it’s also about small actions. The film also proposes a series of actions for reducing your co2 footprint. I like to think of these as ‘trickle up’, where small initiatives played out thousands of times can have some impact. While both films are visionary, they remain grounded in the real and the everyday.

About 25 people attended the screening, the only screening in Brisbane’s middle/outer north to date, and a conversation followed. Graham Readfearn, an environment journalist and blogger, also attended and was available for Q&A. Readfearn said that the discourse about mining and resources was misleading and skewed, stating that more people work in McDonalds in Queensland than in the mining industry. He also talked about the confusing language of climate change; it’s not about ‘believing’ in it because the scientific evidence and broad consensus is in. Given this, ‘belief’ is really about whether you are prepared to challenge your own values and ideologies.  Comments were made about the poor attendance as a sign that many people are withdrawing from this issue, while another suggested that it has more to do with the poor public transport (so the city itself is culpable in the way people can and do engage). One man recounted that his efforts to raise issues about climate change in his workplace were greeted with threats and argument. Another attendee observed that climate change was downplayed in schools because of politicisation and parental backlash. It’s a retreat from learning that seems to placate deniers rather than informed inquiry.

I don’t like to speculate about what motivates people or how they access/respond to information, so I was actually pleased to see 25 people from my district taking this opportunity to learn more about climate change. Incidentally, Readfearn also chaired a panel at the Global Change Institute about the media and climate change, featuring a presentation by  journalist Margot O’Neil. The media is culpable in the propagation of climate change denial and confusion and Readfearn stressed the importance of letting media outlets know that there was a genuine interest in climate change and environmental issues. Let’s also not forget the opportunities presented by social media, indy media and citizen journalism. However, it’s important to acknowledge the way journlists like O’Neil and Readfearn have to communicate; they have broad knowledge of this area and are constantly juggling diverse perspectives about it. In a way, journalists like this are our sensemakers and they need more license.

As we walk out, John and I find ourselves rankled about the growing, perhaps congealing, demeanour of distrust, fear and aggression about sustainability. We whince as if stung when we read the array of comments responding to online news reports. As communicators, we know something has gone very wrong when opinions polarise so sharply: we know it’s a culture war. While I recognise that I draw that card a bit, there is a need to draw out some of the anatomical dimensions of culture wars that are funded and fuelled by toxic corporate, media and ideological interests (re: Naomi Oreskes). If small, local, ‘trickle up’ initiatives can undermine that, then they matter greatly and deeply in developing memes and making constructive change more sticky. A challenge could be finding a workable language and mode of communication that shifts the discussion into a kind of ‘learning circle’ that encourages the transfer of memes (an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture). There’s an ontological dimension of that recognises agency and identification and through which bonds might happen.

While at the event, I picked up a couple of leaflets – one on the Sustainable Jamboree which is a group based in Brisbane’s Jamboree Ward and is supporting efforts to manage peak energy demand, and the other about Brisbane’s Transition Network, which is part of the global Transition Movement helping communities rebuild local resilience and reduce carbon emissions. Once again, I am thinking about the possibility of a Transition initiative in my local area and wondering whether that is an appropriate means for enabling locals to engage constructively by translating talk into action.

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Posted in: culture, suburbia