I present to you two visions for social pathways to sustainability. In one we build a social meme: an idea of a sustainable society that spreads like wildfire through our communities. People pick up this meme from their friends and neighbours because it is everywhere they look: at the School Fete, the Car Boot Sale, the charity event, the university. The message is spread by outreach. In the other the message is bottled within a self-contained institution.

These two ideas may be as far apart as the Papal-based Catholic hierarchy is today from modern evangelical Christians. One you will meet in the High Street or down the pub. The other you will not meet at all. To meet the second option you will have to go looking for it. It will be in a building. If you choose to you can entered its hallowed portals and bath in the glory of its brochures and pamphlets. The righteous shall attend this chapel of environmentalism. It is cosy. You can flick through the brochures, attend exhibitions and maybe learn how to do something useful with your hands. You will leave just a little more "green" than when you went in.

For those who run this institution there is the comfort of being surrounded by sympathisers & fellow travelers. It is a safe and protective environment shielded from the realities of everyday life. From here we can glance over our fellows and deliver messages of sustainability. We hope the messages might stick.

But nobody is listening to these voices from the green ghetto.... The ghetto is very susceptible to the social meme spread by grass roots volunteers but these two places are far apart in their delivery philosophy. Very far apart. So, down to the question: which is best?

Every new idea must have its shock troops and an HQ to base itself in. And the battle is upon us. In April the New York Times (http://bit.ly/gvSdQm) published an interview with Professor Andrew Hoffman from MIT who treats Climate Change Denial as a field of academic study. He is not the first. Social anthropologists the world over are turning their attention to a fascinating field of study: why do we reject 97% of all the evidence on Climate Change?

Professor Hoffman said this "One-third of Republicans and three-quarters of Democrats think that climate change is real. That to me speaks to the political, ideological and cultural dimensions of this debate." These are words that could have been lifted from several of our previous blogs, ie, what has politics got to do with our interpretation of the science? Hoffman went onto observe that "We’ve reached the stage today that climate change has become part of the culture wars, the same as health care, abortion, gun control and evolution."

My reason for bringing up the good professor was this from him: "People will accept a message from someone that they think shares their values and beliefs. And for a lot of people, environmentalists are not that kind of person. There’s a segment of the population that sees environmentalists as socialists, trying to control people’s lives." [Emphasis added.] So there you have it. We do not believe that environmentalists share our values and beliefs.

In April New Scientist published an article called "Climate change skeptics: just regular folk, in denial". (http://bit.ly/f9RwwU) The piece was about Benjamin Preston of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He said that "People who are more conservative, socially and economically, are at the point where they're not going to believe in any of that environmental stuff." Preston went on to say that "a climate-change skeptic is more likely to be swayed to switch opinions if climate data is presented to them from someone they politically identify with". Thus a climate change skeptic is not going to believe the truth unless somebody JUST LIKE THEM tells them it is so.

Environmentalists need not bother applying for that position....

Oddly enough it should be a really easy job since the position taken by most deniers defies all common sense. It should be easy to point out the completely ludicrous. Take this example of the Cato Institute's Peter van Doren who in 1998 criticised tobacco taxes because "smokers do not live as long as non-smokers and, thus, smokers create savings for taxpayers that usually aren’t considered. Because smokers die earlier than non-smokers taxpayers save expenditures that otherwise would be made for pensions as well as nursing home care and other costs related to conditions associated with old age". (http://bit.ly/e1rmzk) A few years later the Cato Institute was defending the coal industry along similar lines.

Defeating the voices of such cynicism should be easy. But the voices from the green ghetto cannot be heard. This is not the way forward. We need to arise from our comfortable eco-clubs and reach out to the majority who cannot hear us.

This is Transition. Welcome on board.

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