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Tradition vs. Innovation: conflict in climate and future

Nowhere in the world do tradition and innovation collide so visibly and loudly as in politics. But is this a new phenomenon and is it limited to politics? A complex answer from an anthropological point of view.

Conservative vs. innovative

What is the basis of the eternal back and forth between these two extremes? Should we choose one of the two or is the promising path in the middle? At the genetic, cultural and technical level, tradition and innovation act as opponents. Traditionalists try to minimize risks with the less innovative strategy by treading the well-trodden paths of those who have already successfully done so. This strategy is also promising as long as the conditions remain the same. However, a changed situation can make strategies that have been tried and tested completely useless.

Climate crisis requires rethinking

With the climate crisis, all of humanity is facing a challenge that can only be solved with new solutions, or at least the worst consequences can be prevented. Although the overwhelming majority of people have been aware of the problem for a long time, hardly any deep and effective measures to deal with the problem have been developed and implemented. The climate crisis requires a profound rethinking and turning away from traditions that have shaped our society from time to time: the primacy of growth, orientation towards short-term profits, the focus on material values. All of these are bad guides if we want to avert the worst consequences of man-made climate change.

Tradition vs. Innovation = boy vs. Old?

It has long been known that man-made climate change has serious consequences for the entire planet. However, it has only recently started to move. Rigorous climate policies are being introduced in some countries, but the issue has also reached the general public. The most remarkable of the current developments is certainly that Fridays for Future Movement that brings a generation to the streets of political activism that was never believed to be possible. Young people make the climate their theme, take the older generation on their duty not to destroy the planet Earth. Turning the momentum created by this movement into effective measures that can slow climate change down is now the big challenge. Unlike online activism, participating in an action is rewarding in itself and gives you the good feeling that you have contributed. Great care must be taken here to ensure that activism does not degenerate into an end in itself, by calming one's conscience, and that one subsequently feels good when boarding the plane for a weekend trip because one was quick to demonstrate beforehand.

A movement always starts with information activism, which leads to problem awareness. Once it has been recognized that a problem exists that needs to be addressed, the next step is to suggest possible solutions, which will then be implemented as broadly as possible. Although awareness of the problem seems to exist, the willingness to take action at all levels, from politics to the individual, is rather hesitant. A number of psychological phenomena are responsible for ensuring that measures with impact are not implemented more vehemently.

Single action bias

The so-called "Single action bias”Leads to the fact that people have the need to do something, but this need is already satisfied by an action. Thus, we buy a clear conscience by changing behavior in one area, have the feeling that we have made a contribution, and have thus justified ourselves to continue to maintain climate-damaging behavior in other matters.
The individual approaches that decision-makers propose cannot, in themselves, bring about a reversal of the trend in climate development. Rather, the situation requires a comprehensive strategy that combines many measures. The complexity of the task brings with it another implementation barrier: Because simple solutions do not work here, our cognition is quickly overwhelmed, which leads to inability to make decisions and the resulting inactivity.

Bunny politics

For politicians, a rigorous turn away from the wasteful and irresponsible use of the planet's resources is a short-term risky maneuver: the immediate costs and the need to forego profits and individual comfort could jeopardize approval of such a policy. Whatever promises a long-term improvement through a detour of short-term impairment may be a wiser choice, but our gut feeling tends to value immediate profits more than expected future profits.

It will therefore not be enough to rely purely on emotional mechanisms to bring about lasting change. The emotions can currently serve to shake people up and bring them out of inactivity. The topic must then be brought to a rational level through comprehensive information so that the willingness of people to contribute does not go to waste in cosmetic measures.

Example biology - an interplay

Biology is characterized by a mixture of old and new. Through inheritance, the tried and tested is passed on to the next generation, and the more something has proven itself, the more often the corresponding information will be found in the next generation because it has had a positive effect on reproduction. However, we are not dealing with an identical transfer of information here: In all living beings, the tradition of genetic information is opposed to different sources of variation: on the one hand, there are errors in copying, i.e. what we know as mutations. These can have positive or negative consequences or have no effect on the organism. Furthermore, existing information can be activated and deactivated - inherent regulation mechanisms do not actually change the genetic information, but can certainly lead to changes in the organism. So this is not a real innovation.

The third source of genetic inventions is the exchange of genetic information in the context of reproduction, i.e. sexuality. Strictly speaking, nothing new is actually invented here, but the combination of different information from the parents creates an innovative combination, which in turn changes traditional patterns.
Interestingly, there are living things that can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Already Darwin's contemporary Antoinette Brown Blackwell recognized an answer to the challenge of the environment: Sexuality only comes into play if the environmental conditions are highly changeable and innovation is therefore particularly in demand. In this regard, she understood much better than Darwin how the interaction between tradition and innovation works in biology. Darwin's theory of evolution is that of a traditionalist. Innovation has no right place in its theoretical approach. That is why he did not really know what to do with sexuality - after all, the deviation from a proven model ran counter to his basic assumption of adaptation.

Simple solutions are not

In many circles, the return to nuclear energy and geoengineering are seen as solutions to the climate crisis. This orientation is one that springs from a traditionalist structure of thought, and that promises that we can leave the problem to science and technology. The popularity of these technological efforts to get climate change under control is due to the fact that behavioral changes are uncomfortable in terms of sustainability. Waiving contradicts the idea of ​​growth and is not seen as a value.

In fact, geoengineering can be compared to fighting an acute allergic reaction with epinephrine. The actual cause remains unaffected and is therefore only used in the actual acute case. Such massive interventions usually also have complex and far-reaching effects that are unknown to us in the case of geoengineering.

Planet Earth is a complex system characterized by many interactions, some of which are still unknown, and some of which cannot be reliably predicted due to their complexity. Any intervention in such a complex dynamic system can lead to unforeseen consequences. Measures of geoengineering may locally improve the situation, but globally accelerate the approach of the disaster.

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

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