From ABC Australia: Knowledge isn’t the problem, willpower is

By Joern Fischer

My colleague Rob Dyball got some nice media coverage in Australia, which has ensued quite an online debate! Well done Rob! See his open editorial on Australia’s ABC network here:

It’s attracted 255 comments! I’d encourage our readers to also comment on that site — we need to send a signal that people care about these issues.

And here’s another one you might want to comment on directly on the page, if you speak German:




4 thoughts on “From ABC Australia: Knowledge isn’t the problem, willpower is

  1. And in case you’re wondering WHY you need to respond to that ABC site: Here’s one of the comments, pasted directly from the above website:

    handjive of no consequence :
    06 Mar 2012 11:24:39am
    The golden calf of the green religion is ‘sustainability’.

    “If resources are not fixed but created, then the nature of the scarcity problem changes dramatically.
    For the technological means involved in the use of resources determines their creation and therefore the extent of their scarcity.
    The nature of the scarcity is not outside the process (that is natural), but a condition of it.”

    – Tom DeGregori (1987). “Resources Are Not; They Become: An Institutional Theory.” Journal of Economic Issues, p. 1258.

    There is no economic law analogous to the physical conservation of matter.
    There is no law of conservation of value; value is continually, routinely created by the market process.
    And this value creation does not deplete–just the opposite.

    As an example of open ended resources:

    “So what exactly are quasicrystals? What makes them “impossible”? And how did the “impossible” finally become possible?”

    This opine offers luddite, regressive groupthink and is detrimental and a danger to humanity’s future & destiny.

  2. On a more positive note, there’s also this comment:
    bbqporkbun :
    06 Mar 2012 11:16:12am
    I like Rob’s comment on civil society organisations building socially acceptable responses that also help to give political legitimacy to reform. It’s often easy to feel that grassroots organisations can’t change anything, but truly they act as valuable touchstones in the media to show that change is legitimate, not just the hypocrisy of radicals. We’ve see this in Canberra with the Love 40% campaign that created a positive image to adopting a 40% emissions reduction target – politicians jumped on it, this campaign gave actual legitimacy to what many politicians have been trying to get going for years.

    We are all in part responsible for transitioning to sustainability – we can’t just expect politicians to do the work, nor just individual consumers. Join an ngo or consumer activist group and add your voice to the many that are already saying “We want change”.

  3. I’d say “Willpower isn’t the problem; *power* is.” I feel like, in our attempts to be “objective”, we scientists tend to underplay the extent to which the status quo benefits many powerful societal actors. As Ostrom has pointed out with regards to common property systems, and as one would expect, it should take some kind of special circumstance for resource users *not* to work together to solve a problem. These special circumstances are common, perhaps–lack of ability or desire to communicate; pressure from external governmental or private forces; short-term exigencies; etc. But resource user groups often can and have sorted out various sustainable use patterns.

    From the point of view of political ecology, Ostrom’s point comes into play perhaps most often in terms of pressures to maintain extractive, unsustainable systems that support the interests of the powerful, wealthy and well-off. (Something she explicitly mentions as one potential driver.) If we ignore the vested interests resisting change, or pretend that they can be convinced with “objective science”, or pretend that change can happen without active (if, one ardently hopes, peaceful) agitation and resistance and mobilization against these forces is to ignore the empirical weight of history.

    Our sustainability problems cannot be solved simply by people voting the right way, or buying the right stuff; it requires larger scale systemic change. This means engaging large scale political systems, and in this, scientists have immense advantages over the populaces we seem to hope will somehow rise up and politically demand sustainability. We carry far more political voice and power than the average citizen, but if we ignore the constraints placed on them by the powerful who benefit from current practices, we will think we can use our voice to berate the less powerful into change, when their willpower is preyed on, sapped, and resisted by others who exert far more influence on the shape of the system than the average citizens we may hope to exhort. And yet, without working with and among “average citizens”, we will not change the policies or politicians who, let’s be honest, largely have no intention of recommending or implementing the kinds of changes needed.

    Willpower is something of a red herring (imho).

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