The Problem of Powerlessness #2

On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.

I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.

Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.

I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.

I’m an open, honest, well-meaning person, and I’m quite sociable, unless I’m trying to focus on something complicated, when I need to be left alone. I like informality and equality, enjoy being able to offer pragmatic solutions, good advice and insight; am capable of managing difficult situations and negotiating progress in a spirit of co-operation. I can work under some stress, as long as it isn’t every day, or in a hostile environment; and I can do good research and detailed work, for example in computer systems programming. I can work with a wide variety of people, as long as they’re minded to be constructive. I like to train people to do the best they can, and do better than before, and I like to build teams that are mutually supportive. Simple is good. Direct is best. I try to create efficiency, I can facilitate business process, manage change and I’m always trying to work myself out of a job.

Unfortunately, there are some people out there who do not understand me, who somehow see me as a threat, and who actively campaign against my aims and methods, sometimes by attempting to isolate me. It slowly dawns on me – a look here, a word there, a conversation I’m not party to. I get the sensation of alienation. I can look in a person’s face and see the antipathy. I don’t know why, but I know what. People can be cruel and ruthless. You cannot expect easy co-operation, especially in a hierarchy, where my competencies always seem to challenge the power base. I really don’t want to put myself through that again. I shouldn’t have to undergo torture in order to earn a living. Rejection, I can handle – what I fear is dejection.

“What you need to do”, says my relative, “is take a job for another ten years or so. A good solid career. You should take a role in the field you have studied.” I reply with, “The trouble is, I now know enough about a great number of organisations I couldn’t possibly bring myself to work for.” My assessment, of course, puts me in the category of judgmental, and makes me fairly unemployable. I’m pretty certain that even those organisations who have a similar approach to mine wouldn’t want to work with me.

Another relative suggests I need to do something practical, says that I can’t spend all my life thinking. There’s only so many roles for thinkers. There’s only so much space for intellectual inquiry. Yes, that’s true. We’ve had enough thinking. The economists told us to price carbon. Everybody else is resisting a price on carbon. High carbon emitters continually lobby against being penalised. It will never work. The economists told us to trade carbon. That has been spectacularly unsuccessful in a number of ways, including the failure to create verifiable, sustainable carbon credits; and the fraud and theft of carbon credits.

The economists told us to price pollution, to make the polluters pay. And the polluters end up passing the costs along the value chain to the end consumers. They don’t stop polluting, they just make their consumers forfeit.

The technologists from the oil and gas industry told us to do things like Carbon Capture and Storage, and other geoengineering. Watch how the number of carbon capture projects grows ! The pace is slower than a drugged snail’s. Why ? Entropy, man. It’s always going to be cheaper to prevent carbon emissions in the first place than re-capture the carbon from the air. And the price of re-capture can be expected to be stellar – it’s all in the chemistry. The only thing that got captured was your intelligence. You were captured by the idea and it failed you.

The policymakers keep blaming the consumer, and telling us all we will enjoy lowering our energy use. The citizens are fighting back, by paying no attention at all to the messaging of restraint; and campaigning against high energy prices.

Nope, I can’t make a career working for an environmental organisation, as life would be defined completely by negatives : antagonism is not an attitude I can keep up. Environmentalists keep making unreasonable, unfeasible demands. They demand change, but don’t offer a pathway to a positive future. It seems that, for the most part, environmentalists can achieve nothing of note. I’m inclined to think that those who control the purse strings control the changes that have to be made – the insurers, the investors, the highly capitalised companies.

But I don’t want to work for a multinational, transnational corporation. Their prime directive is to make a profit to satisfy the demands of their shareholders. They don’t care about carbon unless it is to take care of their bottom line. I could never work for a fossil fuel oil and gas company, even if they have an “alternative energy” section, because they are outright compromised, and are carrying huge carbon liabilities. I’m not sure if there are any ethical finance or banking outfits that I could fit into. I don’t know if there are any renewable energy technology corporations that would be prepared to hire me.

I am an awkward one. Don’t hire me. You’ll only want to fire me. Don’t give me any money to perform a function – there’s nothing I can achieve if people aren’t prepared to work with me. Am I playing hard to get ? Giving the wrong impression ? Once again, I have to strike out on my own. I rather get the idea I will need to create my own job. What is worthwhile doing ?

I’ve been studying the management of climate change, a sort of hybrid discipline between business management studies and climate change policy – taking in climate change science and developments in energy. We’ve learned about carbon management, carbon pricing in all its forms, and the rocky seas of energy policy. We’ve heard that technology and innovation can solve the problem. We’ve heard that renewable energy can save the day. We’ve been exposed to the diversity of proposals for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the institutions, organisations and government departments that are tasked with handling climate change.

There are things that need to be done : the full weight of the world’s production capability and purchasing power needs to be directed towards sustainable and renewable energy, energy conservation, universal building insulation, joined up systems of low carbon transportation, low carbon agriculture, low carbon economic development… All new investment should be directed towards creating low carbon energy assets, energy efficiency and energy conservation.

There are ways to make things happen. You do something yourself. You ask somebody else to do it. You pay somebody to perform a function. You create obligations, and a system of accountability. If you’re the Governor of Texas and you’re desperate for rainfall to break the long, hot drought, you beseech the heavens for divine intervention. You wait for the passage of time and the unfolding of events to whisper the suggestion of change…

And then there’s the power of influence. It’s a constant surprise – the genuinely influential don’t realise how hard it is for others to emulate their role. There are in fact very few people who can influence for the better.

I don’t want to have influence. I don’t want to be famous for bending minds. I don’t want to be admired for being seductively convincing. What I offer is the truth as I see it – flat and un-adorned. However, honesty is not lucrative; and pragmatism doesn’t sell. People don’t seem to like straight talking or plain speaking.

I don’t have influence, but I don’t want influence. I don’t want to be someone that other people revere and follow. I don’t want to be a leader. I just want to put the facts and figures and methods out there for others to recognise – to witness to inevitable changes, and our changing responsibilities and accountabilities.

I don’t have power. I don’t want power. I am without artifice. I don’t want to be a sales person or be forced to fabricate with public relations. I’m not trying to prove anything – I’m just trying to show it.

People say I should take employment in order to pursue my goals and aims. I don’t know if there is any form of employment, currently, that would allow me to pursue my goals and aims. I cannot think of any role that anyone would want filled that would grant me the kind of authority I would need to pursue my goals and aims. And anyway, I don’t want to offer a service of labour to a paternalistic organisation in exchange for some kind of accredited authority; permission to get done what needs to be done.

I cannot do anything about the appallingly bad media coverage of climate change science, the crisis in energy and policy. There are not enough hours in the day to effectively counter their poorly-constructed and often unfactual narratives. I don’t have the energy to go against all this stupidity and propaganda. The channels of mass communication lack the necessary staff with the skillsets to relate the full scale of climate change to their communities of audiences. I disagree with almost all economists and many of the industrial corporations about how to handle climate change. I cannot completely align myself with any single political party or grouping – the Members of Parliament and many civil servants struggle with science and technology. They are mostly non-scientists, non-engineers.

I often find myself considering a company or an organisation and thinking, “I can’t work for these people. They’ll have me doing something useless”, or “I can’t work with these people. Their pitch is all blather. Their intellectual framework is tilted, on weak foundations, and liable to fracture.” I cannot live a lie. I cannot live with a lie.

I have adopted a position of powerlessness, but it is problematic. My communication skills are constrained by my repudiation of power.

I cannot produce anything much by communicating, as I don’t want you to believe without evidence and knowledge, and I don’t need you to agree with me just because I say something. You will probably dismiss my thoughts on the basis of my position, and I can’t make the message stick; but then, in a democracy of thought, I shouldn’t force you to accept anything I say.

I don’t want to convert you, recruit you, make you change your mind. But somebody has to say these things – give us all the opportunity to reflect and maybe come to our senses.

What should be said. What has to happen.

All I can do is keep saying what needs to be said and keep saying what has to happen, what will happen; whilst critiquing all the confusion, distortion and disinformation. That’s all I can do. I’m not very successful at communicating these things, but it’s still all I can do. All I can do is not enough. But it’s all I can do.

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