It was Abraham Lincoln who warned, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” In David Copperfield, Dickens wrote, “Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.” That was the nineteenth century. Just as we speak of “common sense” failing to recognise that it is not common, we mouth platitudes without acting on them.
The UK government published The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review in 2006, it concluded “the evidence gathered by the Review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.”
The adage “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow” is attributed to both Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde and reported as “comical.” Procrastination has characterised the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Today’s playbook is based on the 2010 book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” by American historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. They document how “keeping the controversy alive” by spreading doubt and confusion after a scientific consensus had been reached was the basic strategy of those opposing action.
Jennifer Jacquet, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science at the University of Miami, published “The Play Book” in 2022. Described by geneticist and science populariser, Adam Rutherford, as “Very funny, as satire should be, until you realise it’s deadly serious.” It is a convincing read, a ‘how-to manual’ for procrastinators. Satire can unwittingly encourage the very behaviour it seeks to reveal, especially when it benefits those who follow the playbook.
“Written in the form of a corporate handbook for tobacco, oil and pharmaceutical company executives, it is a litany of obfuscation techniques, denial, delays and outright lies, including: how to recruit an academic ‘expert’ who is willing to compromise their integrity (or is just short of cash), how to massage the statistics, how to use legal and even physical intimidation against reporters and activists, and how, just as in a casino, to keep your customers comfortable, unquestioning, unthinking and playing along for as long as possible.”
A charge sheet against the powerful, it is also a guide to effective action by those seeking to put off until tomorrow what should be done now, today. As it says on the cover, this is a ‘how manual’ “How to deny science, sell lies, and make a killing in the corporate world.”
The French theologian and social activist Peter Maurin reminds us that: “The future will be different if we make the present different.” We shall reap what we sow – or at least our children and grandchildren will.
We face a “polycrisis.” Jonathan Derbyshire, writing in the Financial Times, in January 2023, chose polycrisis as his “year in a word” . “Noun: collective term for interlocking and simultaneous crises of an environmental, geopolitical and economic nature.” He traced the coining of the word back to the late 1990s and the work of the “French social scientists Edgar Morin and Anne Brigitte Kern, who employed it to describe the “interwoven and overlapping crises” facing humanity, especially in the ecological sphere.”
The Tourism Panel on Climate Change has just published my paper on Tourism in a Finite, Climate Challenged World. We face a poly-crisis; we also know how to fix many (most?) of the problems we face. We need to stop procrastinating and pursuing business as usual and step up to take responsibility to make the changes essential to our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.