The Seasons alter
How to Save Our Planet in Six Acts
by Philip Kitcher & Evelyn Fox Keller
Book review by Jasper Coppes
In the studio
Noon. Storm rages in the North of Amsterdam. It is the 14th of April 2018 and the winter seems to have extended far into spring. Rain pours down on the streets like in a movie-set, in an almost exaggerated manner. It splashes on the Perspex skylight of a studio building, amplifying the rainfall to biblical proportions. Inside the studio three artists/writers/designers are at work with their headphones on, their eyes plugged to the computer screen. Joe, one of the studio’s inhabitants, decides to make lunch. As he rummages about in the kitchen, Jo, his studio-mate takes off her headphones and strikes up a conversation. They haven’t spoken a word since she came in earlier this morning.
Jo: What a weather today huh?
Jo: I said… (louder) What a weather today?!
Joe: (louder) Ah ok… yeah… it’s bloody raging out there! You were lucky to get in before it started! I thought spring was finally arriving. But it seems the seasons are all completely messed up.
Jo: Oh well, yes… We all know the climate is changing. In itself it has almost become a boring subject. Next summer will be wetter… blablabla… It’s no use complaining about the weather, as a Norwegian friend of mine always likes to say.
Joe: I’m not sure if I agree. I love complaining. It’s part of the culture I grew up in.
Jo: (jokingly) Yes I know, you guys love the good old whining. But are you going to do something about it, or what?
Joe: About what, for God’s sake? About the weather?
Jo: Yes, the weather.
Joe: Well, that I have to give to your Norwegian friend: I cannot change the weather. The weather is what it is. That’s why we complain about it. If I could change it, there would be no reason to complain. Other people might be able to change it, but not me.
Jo: Wow, your more old-fashioned than I thought! You should read this book I’ve recently read (points to a white-red book on her table). It’s really brilliant. It will change your mind… About the weather – and about many things, in fact.
Joe: (sceptical) So… tell me more?
Jo: Well… it’s like a socratic dialogue – like the ones we sometimes organise in our studio. But in the book the conversation is between two people: Joe, a sceptical man like you and Jo, a passionate female climate activist. A bit like me (puts on a big smile, teasingly) In each chapter both of them become different persons. The only things that stay the same are their names. So in a way, Jo and Joe could be anyone. They could be you and me…
Joe: (even more sceptical) ha-ha-ha Very funny. Are you serious? They’re actually called Jo and Joe?
Jo: Yes, so… in fact they really could be you and me… having a conversation about climate change. If we would follow the structure of the book, we could now be writing the seventh chapter, the one following six previous chapters in which each time another Jo tries to convince you about the urgency of climate change. It’s really well set up… The first conversation is still a bit general – between two lovers sipping wine as they discuss different points of view - but with each chapter the conversations become more concentrated and more specific. And they include really interesting facts that lead to more constructive dialogues.
Joe: Like what? Can you give and example?
Jo: Well… one part, where I really got sucked into the dialogue, was with a Jo from Nigeria who tries to convince a Western philanthropic entrepreneur to become more radical in his approach. You know, it’s the kind of organisation that pops-up all the time: companies that invest in small businesses in poor countries with the idea that they are helping people there. But they’re actually pushing them behind on the green energy revolution that needs to happen on a global scale. And to make things worse, we in the west still remain ahead of the game – we still let others do our dirty work. Which basically means that we’re letting other, less prosperous people pay for the global warming that our affluent countries generated. We profited from the industries that racked the world. So we should be the ones to pay.
Joe: Sounds complicated.
Jo: Well, you know, it just shows how much climate injustice and what we can do about it is interwoven with social injustice. One does not exist without the other. You should really read the book!
Joe: Ok, it does sound interesting. But isn’t all this talking exactly what’s keeping us from taking action? All these interesting opinions? All this speculating?
Jo:No! It’s quite the opposite! The problem is that we don’t talk, and that keeps us from seeing what the actual obstacles are that block our ability to change our situation. The brilliant thing about this book is that you get all the facts, not in complicated scientific talk, but in the form of a dialogue between people with whom you can identify. It’s really amazing how much it pulls you into the discussion. As if you’re having these conversations yourself.
Joe: I’m getting curious… who did you say it was written by? Can we trust that the authors are correct about the perspectives that they put forward?
Jo: The authors of the book are both professors in Philosophy. One at Colombia University, the other at MIT. I’m not sure what that says about their reliability. But the book offers a complete index at the end with all the scientific references, so you can explore these for yourself, and have a properly informed discussion about them with others. That’s the whole idea, that we continue the conversation…
Joe: But don’t the writers of the book have a biased perspective themselves as well? What does a discussion that started in America have to do with us in Amsterdam?
Jo: In a way, yes, you’re right. The authors are American and the need for this discussion over there is every high. But the climate crisis is going to affect us all, especially in the Netherlands where we are with so many people, living so close to the sea. And… you know… remember the lawsuit that’s just been filed against Shell? That just shows to which degree the Netherlands is invested in businesses that damage the planet at large. The book does a great job at making you aware of the international perspective. Different cultures and nationalities come together. Jo argues for an immediate worldwide campaign to reduce the effects of global warming. And she emphasises that different nations should work together to establish a plan of action.
Joe: (rolling his eyes) Sounds like sci-fi to me. If you look at what’s happening today, we’re pretty far off from any constructive dialogue – not even between people in the neighbourhood, let alone between politicians of different nations.
Jo: But the conversation has to start somewhere, right?
Joe: (hesitant) Maybe…
Jo: Do you remember that book you recommended me the other day? ‘Confabulations’ by the late John Berger? One of your favourite authors right? Very articulate and original thinker, you said. Well, he ends his book with the sentence ‘We will learn to wait in solidarity. Just as we will continue indefinitely to praise, to swear and to curse in every language we know.’ That’s exactly where ‘The Seasons Alter’ takes off, to continue the waiting and the praising and cursing we do into a direction that’s much more hands-on. We need to know exactly what our motivations are for not taking action, or doing only a little bit, or taking action in an unproductive way. We need to have a map of the whole spectrum of issues around climate justice, and it needs to be a detailed map; showing roads on which we can get together. What questions can we ask each other? What questions do we need to ask ourselves? The only way to find out is by talking about what we think, what we imagine, what we believe to be true. And to express how we feel. With a changing environment comes a change of our emotional landscape. Sharing that internal landscape might actually be the only way forward as the seasons are already starting to turn! Just read the book and then we’ll talk again…