The first Cardiff Philosophy Cafe film evening took place last Thursday (30 September) at Milkwood Gallery in Roath. Twenty or so people came along to watch Beyond the Tipping Point, a film directed by Stefan Skrimshire, which looks at the impact that images of the future can have on our capacity to think and act here in the present.
The film is divided into six chapters, and features contributions from academics, activists and others to help think through some of the issues that have arised to accompany the growing prevalence of the imagery of tipping points in discourse about climate change. The idea that a certain level of concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might, by increasing average global temperatures, produce a sudden shift in the climate system has been taken by campaigners as the inspiration for a variety of “emergency” campaigns, such as 100 Months to Save the World. Others have seen the idea of tipping points as heralding a counsel of despair, given that the moment when a tipping point is passed, bringing an irreversible and potentially catastrophic change, is essentially unpredictable.
The film proposes that, rather than demanding instant decisive collective action, or justifying giving up, that the idea of a tipping point indicates the emergence of a new, and yet to be worked out, relationship between human beings and their own futures. The possibility that there is a “moment” in which action must happen, or the opportunity to act be lost forever, is discounted as a kind of political fantasy, replacing the reality of a world in which tens of thousands die every day from hunger and disease with a spectacle of citizens’ virtue versus politicians’ (and industry’s) vice.
Instead, the film offers questions about what it might mean for us to live in a world in which our confidence that we can control the future has gone for good. What would individual and collective action aim at, in such a world? Would we be aiming to influence the future, to prepare ourselves for what it might hold, or to express and shape a set of values or preferences that we take to be absolutely fundamental to who we are?
In discussion, participants debated these and other issues, particularly the problems that individuals face in attempting to act, as individuals, when any action towards either mitigating or adapting to climate change demands collective effort, with political and economic actors playing their part too. One particularly striking way of thinking about these problems was via an image of “links in the chain” – e.g. producers, distributors, and consumers of goods – with each “link” required to act, while at the same time presupposing that all other “links” are acting to change their ways of life simultaneously.
Another point raised – and perhaps a key one to consider in relation to the film’s treatment of tipping points – was that the image of the tipping point, when applied to how we think about social action (as opposed to natural processes over which we have no control), can be empowering and inspiring, and even get us beyond the to-and-fro between individuals on one hand, and the collective on the other. If we think of changes in consciousness, or patterns of action, as themselves subject to tipping points, then it may be that an intervention by a relatively small group of people, at the right time, in the right place, can make more of a difference than might initially be thought possible, producing an irreversible shift after which nothing appears the same. The fantasy of “the moment for action” might then be displaced by an appreciation of the potential for there to be many such moments, in many different places. Here, the future may open up before us again as something open to influence, though not in the way previously imagined.
Were you in attendance last Thursday? We’d welcome your reflections on the evening – add these below if you wish.