Apocalypse now?

Gudmund Hernes at the Top-level Research Initiative's annual conference, November 2011. Photo: T.Heiestad.

Apocalypse now?

– In the past we thought that the Earth was invincible and that we could do what we liked with it. Now I am seeing a greater awareness of the fact that the world is fragile and that we are in danger of causing irreparable damage, says Gudmund Hernes, author of the essay ”Hot Topic – Cold Climate, Climate Change and Attitude Change” for the Top-level Research initiative.

Gudmund Hernes, researcher, professor of sociology and former Norwegian minister, focuses on setting out assertions and theses as a basis for debate – and in time political action. – It is important for me to describe how humans respond when we are faced with the repercussions of our interactions with nature. Today we have a wealth of knowledge provided by meteorologists, climate scientists and oceanographers. But this is not enough, because knowledge in itself is never a sufficient basis for action. The aim of this report is therefore to mobilise the social science disciplines. - Only when we understand how and why we have reacted so far can we take effective action, he explains.

Events that changed our perspective

The report presents seven pivotal events that together have prompted the majority of us to see the world as small and vulnerable. Among these are the bombing of Hiroshima, the first photograph of the whole of the planet Earth by astronauts on board the Apollo 8, and global climate change. – Some of these events happened suddenly, while others take place gradually over time. What they have in common is that they have been perceived as so dramatic that we have been willing to abandon our old ways of thinking as a result of them. And that is not something that happens easily! It is not until we are confronted with something that comes as a shock that we are prepared to change our opinions – and even then not until our friends and those around us have also done so.

We are in the midst of a revolution

According to Gudmund Hernes we are now in the midst of such a shift in mindset. – But fully addressing the fact that humans are changing the Earth and the climate will require action and incur costs – for us as individuals, for trade and industry, for politicians, and for society as a whole. Where should we store CO2, for example? Who should pay to save the rainforest?

- We need decisions that involve investments. This creates political conflicts and the decisions are delayed. But the longer we postpone implementing the necessary measures, the greater the changes we will need to make – and the greater the costs will be.

Download or order a copy of the report here

See video from breakfast seminar at Fafo here


Text: Dag Inge Danielsen adapted for the Internet by Lisa H. Ekli.
Photo: Terje Heiestad