By Roger Diamond

There’s something about being in trouble together, a binding force that brings people together, a mutual challenge or a common enemy. It seems to me that people would rather focus on such a threat, even though it’s remote or unlikely, than something more likely, but discriminatory.

Take for example climate change, which is all the rage at the moment. Let me be clear that I am not a climate change denialist, however, I am neither totally convinced of all the predictions and details of climate science. Given the complicated nature of the earth’s climate, we really can’t be sure what is or what will happen, yet the world has embraced this as the largest environmental threat or even the most grave threat of all, facing humanity. And people seem to have this perception that we’re all in it together — it is the atmosphere after all, which is an untamed and uncontrollable mass of gases.

Climate change is undoubtedly a major threat to humans and the environment, but the way in which it has captured the imagination of the world suggests to me that there is something psychologically appealing about it and my guess is that people assume it is going to affect us all. I think the reason people find this common enemy appealing is that they hope it will make everyone act. From the rich to the poor, from the smart to the stupid, from the influential leaders to the following masses, we hope that everyone will see merit in getting their hands dirty, changing their lifestyles or in some way adding to the effort. This is not unlike the glorified and possibly historically inaccurate perception of the war effort of Britain during the Second World War. Did everybody really sacrifice and contribute?

Peak Oil is a similarly global threat to humanity, although some would say it could be our environmental saviour — painful, but ultimately extending our stay on earth somewhat. But most people aware of Peak Oil consider its consequences very dramatic, certainly for our energy-hungry globalised society. Yet there is an attraction to Peak Oil, not unlike the climate-change scenario, in which people feel that this is a common enemy and will galvanise action among all members of society and bring a certain satisfying togetherness to our actions. Would you rather fight with your friends or run away alone?

The key point of this all is that these are merely our perceptions of how Peak Oil, climate change and other events may affect our lives. The reality is that these problems will bite with discrimination and some people and environments will suffer greater than others. However, I believe that our predictions of how these things unravel are simplistic and to think that Bangladesh will get it worst because they are low, is one-dimensional thinking about a multidimensional problem. I’m not saying those predictions will be wrong, but they may not be right.

Perhaps the era of the highly individualised Western dream has brought a sense of loneliness to the average person and even if it takes a disaster to bring people together, at least it will restore some sense of common purpose, group cohesion and humanity to the deceptively dissatisfying cornucopia of our current society.

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