Steve Westlake on twitter points to an ideological hypothesis about human nature which is used to justify not doing anything about climate change. He calls it “behavioural realism” based on Mark Fisher’s idea of ‘Capitalist Realism.’ I’m not keen on this term, as it implies the idea about human behaviour, which it is criticising, is real. I’d prefer something like “neoliberal realism”, because putting the emphasis on the social part of the expression suggests that the problem is social and political rather than behavioural, but let’s stay with what we have, as it nicely clarifies and names an identifiable issue.
Westlake defines behavioural realism as:
the doctrine that people won’t change their behaviour to tackle the climate crisis, so existing activities must be swapped with low-carbon duplicates, eg. EVs, flying.
This ideology about human nature “props up power structures and protects high-emitters and elites” who don’t want to change, or whose profits, status or power, would be threatened by change; such as the fossil fuel industry or the standard automobile industry.
As seems clear: the major polluters are the wealth elites. So, if we were to be fair, then they should change first – which would also set a good example that people could follow. But neoliberalism’s view of human nature also assures us people are selfish, and thus the neoliberal elites seem unlikely to change.
Obviously the ideology works by suggesting that significant, profit affecting, behavioural change is impossible, and should not even be considered – “nobody wants to change”. What’s more by suggesting that change is unnatural and impossible, the ideology allows people in favour of change to be dismissed as “virtue signallers,” “politically correct” “wanting us all to live in caves,” “communists” or whatever the corporate establishment’s call for silence is dressed up as this month.
However, as another reader of the thread points out, almost all the behaviours which require massive pollution and energy usage are recent behaviours. They are not native to humanity, as such. Furthermore, continuing with the present day “behavioural realism” will eventually deliver a crisis that will disrupt that “realism”, because the climate will not allow it to happen, and will force behavioural change on all of us except, perhaps, for the real wealth elites who can stay safe.
Even ideas of change can be caught in this paradox, as sometimes the idea of change refers to behaving in a way which keeps contemporary life and social structure functioning for a bit longer.
Westlake remarks: “maybe [it] just needs pointing out when [the idea of change is] not really referring to actual change, or [is referring] to counterproductive change.”
I would say behavioural change not only requires a vision of something better to strive towards, but a change in social patterns and organisation, which requires civil disobedience and political participation.
So perhaps the first behavioural/conceptual change is to convince people they can and should participate in local politics to make things better, and then increase that participation to the national and world stage, however much the elites try and convince you that politics should be left to them as it is dirty and corrupt.