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The Soapbox: Cutting through the noise to spur climate action

In the second of a four-part series, author André Clement describes how in an age of information, information itself has become noise. But spurring action on climate change requires focus and critical thinking, things social meda directly assaults
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Dealing with the imminent crisis of global warming goes beyond science and technology — as the name implies, the issue is “global”. 

No one country or geographic area can resolve the issues related to global warming since the causal effects are everywhere. These causes are not evenly distributed across the world and only now are we agreeing on the necessity to measure green gas emissions in a standardised manner (1) to pinpoint who and what is causing the continuation of their proliferation. 

Unprecedented international cooperation and collaboration are critical if global warming is to be addressed, and what are the chances of that occurring?

International cooperation has occurred in our recent past and our species is trying to evolve toward that end. The 1944 Bretton Woods Conference (2) led to the establishment of unique, multilateral institutions to perpetuate international co-ordination with common rules, regardless of national power or politics. 

The conference was followed by the establishment of the International Monetary Fund (3), the World Bank (4), the United Nations, the World Health Organization (5), the World Trade Organization (6) and, finally, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (7) in April of 1949.

The First World War spawned the League of Nations to be replaced by the United Nations after the Second World War. Fifty-one countries founded the United Nations (UN) in 1945 with the intent of providing global governance to oversee the maintenance of peace and security, and to promote friendly relations, social progress and human rights among nations. 

While it is a credit to the intent of the UN that this voluntary organization has existed for 77 years, any follower of conventional media will understand that the progress on its goals has been sketchy. Its patchwork of successes supports the rational for its continuance, but it still falls short of its lofty goals (8). 

Other international organizations strive toward international cooperation. The Yearbook of International Organizations (9) reflects the existence of approximately 67,000 intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations in about 300 countries and territories. 

However, these organizations operate with specific mandates that predominantly exclude environmental concerns. Despite its record, the UN remains the most effective means of global cooperation. It’s the best we have and governments are the key players in whatever solutions we may be stumbling towards as we linger far behind in achieving an international state of harmony and international cooperation.

Of the 193-plus governments that exist today, their governments are either democratic or totalitarian with every imaginable variation in between (10) and they all have their own means of dealing with their relevant issues. Wars are constant and they have evolved with the mayhem of outright military conflicts; cold wars that restrict and fragment international cooperation and the more recent cyber wars that surreptitiously insinuate themselves beyond border defences into the economies, institutions and social fabric of the citizens within those borders (11).

Any one of these wars undermines or destroys the trust and confidence required of global cooperation and we are far from eliminating their existence.

As nations work at governing themselves, they must deal with a myriad of international and domestic issues. The Union of International Associations started publishing the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (12) in 1972 and it has listed hundreds of global problems within the categories of Illiteracy, human disease and disability, plant diseases, the denial of human rights and nutritional deficiencies. 

That list can go on almost indefinitely since what is included and resolved today will be joined by new issues that have not yet been identified. In the meantime, the focus on global warming is diminished as an international priority. 

On the international stage, other phenomenona prevail as corporations compete for market shares and dominance. Terrorism flares up with dramatic results and organized crime propagates its own progress on the world stage as the authorities lag behind in their attempts to keep up to their evolving criminal activities (13). 

As one takes the time to reflect on the helter skelter of these various factors, there is little left to bolster confidence in international cooperation. Solutions needed and where will they emerge? Knowledge and communication are prerequisite if solutions are to be generated and propagated over our Planet Earth. 

We are supposed to be living in an age of information, but we are not. Actually, we are living in an age of communications, technology and data. 

“Information” usually consists of knowledge communicated or received about a particular fact or circumstance and it is usually derived from study, research and instruction. “Communication” means sending messages, and messages do not necessarily contain factual information. 

Can we be assured that we are consistently receiving adequate information with our televisions, computers, smart phones, newspapers, books and radio — from limitless sources for indefinite audiences? Today’s observer of communicated messages has to be particularly skilled to ferret out the facts buried within deliberate lies or thoughtless inaccuracies. Although there appears to be an inherent desire to be informed, likely a throwback to the primordial days of surviving among larger beasts of prey, this desire may be too frequently fulfilled by false information.

Information technology (or rather communication technology) has a life of its own. IT specialists themselves are speculating about how the technology is affecting people. The documentary “Social Dilemma” (14) indicated the industry’s plan to encourage the use of internet platforms and applications had attained successes beyond business usage since these were being designed to become addictive. 

The persuasive technology not only encourages participation, it is designed to track data on all individual users to predict their behaviour and interests. The intricacies of the technology remain unknown to most users. 

In the contest between humans and technology, technology knows a great deal more about humans than humans do about technology. 

The imbalance is exacerbated by the artificial intelligence (AI) that has invaded our daily lives. While AI’s algorithms are helpful, they can also be destructive as seen with the two airline crashes caused by faulty algorithms on the Boeing 737 Max 8 in 2018 (15).  algorithms can be designed for profit or controls and they can produce millions of replications of any message for distribution worldwide to shape the perspective of large audiences.  Hence, the belief in the unfounded “Pizza Gate” and “QAnon” conspiracies. 

The “Social Dilemma” made the point that the human species faces an existential threat if it becomes impossible to determine what is true. Some experts believe these issues could be addressed – over time. 

But, in the meantime, the Climate Change Tipping Point Clock keeps on ticking.

The credibility of communications suffers from the realization that everyone, at one time or another, lies. Most lies are relatively benign to avoid hurt or to avoid difficult issues, they can grease social wheels and they can benefit a variety of circumstances.  

However, other lies exist about significant issues. Politicians and corporations in particuilar lie to suit their own agendas. This “normal” can leave one suspicious of all public statements and all too often we are left to suspect that some information is being omitted. 

Some of these parties do tell the truth much of the time, but it is difficult to tell who is or is not lying. Regrettably, this state of affairs undermines one’s trust in official statements and creates doubt in what one is hearing, reading or even seeing.

The credibility of public information has always been subject to suspicion. The town crier’s messages were single-sourced and more easily confirmed, and this held the town crier somewhat closer to accountability for the truth. 

Today’s public has been burned. The 1994 US House of Representatives Waxman hearings (16) imprinted images on the public consciousness of the seven cigarette company CEOs swearing that smoking was not addictive. Purdue Pharma claimed for years that OxyContin was less addictive than other opioid painkillers, but it admitted in a 2007 lawsuit that it knew, with complete disregard for human life, that it was addictive and was fined $635 million (17). 

Once burned by erroneous or deliberately false testimonials, what trust and confidence remains?

The communications produced by public relations firms, marketing agencies, political parties and corporations have been joined by anybody within social media platforms. Is the social media platform friendly, objective or useful? Yes and no. Given its widespread application and use, social media is useful and it can be objective and friendly. However, this is not always the case. Hackers break into “secure” data banks, IT professionals engage in cyber wars between countries (11) to spread disinformation and extract information. 

We are all exposed to online fraud, identity theft and malware or ransomware that can be implanted in our devices. As we face these hurdles, a simple, logical pronouncement or rumour with a little follow-up that appears rational can launch a conspiracy into cyber space. The pronouncement then circles the globe within hours – only to come back to the reader from several directions to verify the theory, which still remains false and misleading. And it does not have to be proven correct to disrupt legitimate communications. All it has to do is create doubt.

As legitimate sources struggle to communicate credible information within all this internet noise, doubt can prevail to create inaction or massive resistance to the realities that should be addressed. 

In the meantime, a great deal of communication addresses the more frivolous and entertaining issues in the worlds of sports, pornography, gambling and gaming that are crowding cyberspace. This persistent flurry of communications succeeds in occupying the time and minds of its audiences – away from the Earth’s imminent crisis of climate change. 

For everyone, the major task will be to process the critical information needed to solve the crisis. Given the fog of communications, even the most stalwart of heart and brilliant of mind will see or feel their best efforts being undermined or deterred. And what of the non-stalwarts and non-brilliant or occasional observers? How will they succeed in making their way to selecting the best courses of action? There is a very strong probability that they may not.

André Clement lives in Greater Sudbury. He is the author of “Evolution to Extinction, a Primer on Global Warming”.


  4. World Bank
  11. Ben Buchanan, The Hacker and the State Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics 
  13. Interpol, the US National Security Council, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control