Saturday, October 3, 2009

The gap between knowing and doing

If you're driving towards the edge of a cliff in the fog, it's good to be aware that that's what you're doing. It's even better to do what it takes to prevent it.

In order to deal with surprises, you have to pay attention. If you don't know you're headed off a cliff, you aren't very likely to do anything to stop it. But simply knowing what's going on doesn't change it. With knowing, however, you have the chance to act and fix the problem before it gets out of control.

For those of you with the 'ignorance is bliss' mindset, try covering up the fuel gauge in your car for a few weeks. You'll either run out of fuel or start compulsively filling the tank. Either way, you'll learn what any GI-Joe fan would tell you: Knowing is half the battle.

But it's only half. If you don't act based on the information, the outcome is the same as total ignorance, and those outcomes aren't very good. Watching your fuel gauge drop down to empty runs you out of gas just the same as not watching it at all. If, on the other hand, we put knowledge and action together, we can recognize when we're low on fuel and act accordingly.

It's simpler when it's just you. You get to decide when you need gas, and if there are consequences, they're yours alone. Getting a group, society or an entire planet to coordinate action is far more difficult.

Being removed from a situation helps. It's easy to give advice to someone far away about what to do, because you have the psychological distance to see problem objectively, and don't have to deal with the short term consequences.

Catastrophic Climate Change is a slow moving but serious threat. It's almost upon us, but we're too close to it to see what we should do. Everyone alive has been steeped in the oil boom. We've forgotten how to live without cheap energy.

Continuing to rely on fossil fuels is like driving toward the cliff in the fog. Nations are fighting over seats in the car and dropping bricks on the gas pedal. We know there's a better option. Will we do something about it?

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