By Mike Corbett
Given an understanding of what’s in the recent IPCC 6th report what would you expect a rational city council to do in response? Humans evolved because of our critical thinking abilities. So if a current city council possessed those abilities what would they be doing right now?
You would expect them to convene a special meeting so the city could begin taking urgent steps to stop greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere as well as steps to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. They would make it a priority for their staff and commissions to find ways to take immediate steps to accomplish these crucial actions.
Since the Davis City Council declared a climate emergency two and a half years ago, little has been done. And as we approach the completion of the current climate action plan (CAP), our City's approach seems to be falling far short of what it should be. The recent survey of our citizens has revealed a very weak City understanding of all our options and what we should be doing today. We need to employ more critical thinking.
Critical thinking must first address the ability to find the most important thing or issue to focus on in any given moment or situation, from personal choices to issues within the global realm. Additionally, critical thinking must start with the work of understanding a problem’s core by analyzing its depth and breadth. That means understanding the full context around the issue (in this case the IPCC report), and that means looking past biases or views that obscure the core of the problem.
Critical thinking is a process that emerged from our early evolution. Human attention to pressing issues and acting effectively, often times by creatively inventing solutions, is what propelled our species to succeed. Critical thinking also requires us to consider probabilities in our assessments, ranging from highly likely to unlikely. Early humans survived because their assumptions were based on likelihoods reflecting reality. They would have noticed patterns that could be depended on (in our case according to scientists, a cascade of biospheric collapses), those that were somewhat dependable and those that were possible but infrequent. The survival of our ancestors would have benefited from psychological flexibility to reconsider things so they could adjust to new information and conditions as they arose. Critical thinking was a necessity but we have something else now, magical thinking.
Science writer Louise Fabiani argues, magical thinking is simply dangerous. “The magical thinker combines that optimism with a self-interest that can take root when a solution to a problem conflicts in some way with their identity or values, or simply takes too much effort and time. As we lurch further into the Anthropocene, people comfortable with change will continue to bump up against those who aren’t. How can activists, policymakers, and even ordinary citizens mitigate magical thinkers’ disengagement with reality and responsibility?”
As we lurch ahead, I believe it is time for our community and our City leadership to define our position. Is it possible that we are magical thinkers not critical thinkers? Is it time to demand a new direction from our leaders?