Global Climate Talks: Epidemiology of action research cell change

Our minds and hearts are with our representatives in Paris for the global climate talks. They stayed there from the previous week too as the City of Light returned from the temporary and terrifying darkness of terrorist attacks.   If ever there was a time for community coordination around breakthrough ideas that need to be put into action, it is now. This week we know that community coordination needs to be concerned with reducing global climate catastrophe. (Downgrading from catastrophe to merely horrible would be a step in the right direction!) This is a calling toward experimentation with best ideas that a community will support and implement.  In the summer I met one of the many membered team who produced the IPCC Climate Change report. She told me that the ideas of action research are known and respected. Not that they are likely to be widely adopted by the IPCC members, which is a community that is fervently “expert science” driven. Still, nice to know! And in turn I wondered how do action researchers best support expert scientists?  We seem to meet them after the lab results come in, when the conventional scientist bristles with an expert sense of how best to proceed. As if to dictate how. But who listens? Action researchers, on the other hand, are more concerned with bringing stakeholders into a conversation early so there can be ownership of any outcome or insight. By including stakeholders earlier we mean to take seriously that even the best of expert science can no longer dictate (I’m not sure it ever could). Everything that appears to be objectively non-negotiable (climate change, evolution!) is indeed contestable. In the USA climate change is contested by a large minority of the population, including too many of our politicians. We may call this “science denial.” I sometimes lose patience and use that term. But in truth they give voice that affirms their worldview, one as dear to them as mine, and often fearful of losing economic power and prestige.  All the better to see good examples of climate neutral business opportunities doing well. All the better to see the upside of change that will come.  Still who wants to given up power. Ironically it strikes me that the organization (not the methods!!) of the terrorists who preceded the climate talks can teach us a way forward.  They work in small groups, they use social media, they are committed. This “cell organizing” mode goes back at least to Mao and his insurgent ability to unite a massive population through distributing leadership to cells.  Neither Mao nor religious fundamentalist speak to my heart but they sure knew how to activate large scale change. I think action research also has much in common with this “epidemiological” cell movement. There is emergent change through communities of the likeminded. Epidemiology, cells. Sounds like a more organic model of change. Not our fathers’ (fundamentalist) machine models of change.  Globalization and social media, mobile people who harvest the fruits of French (Western) culture, namely our respect for freedom, equality and solidarity, can be those cells. Sustainability will not be a walk back in time.  For better or worse we need to muddle through as one organism. If we are to survive as a species.

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