Douglas Ross

Stephen Hawking’s Climate Change Comments Off-The-Mark, Naive, Elitist

Stephen Hawking’s recent article in The Guardian called for an end to inequality to combat climate was carved in an elitist tone, and I fear you cannot discuss inequality from an elitist perspective.

 

In full knowledge that I am picking apart the words of one of the most intelligent and prolific scientists and theorists of our times, I do so because staying silent in the glow of Stephen Hawking’s genius would only prove the insinuation that lies at the heart of his recent article in The Guardian.

Whether it be Pope Francis’ LAUDATO SI’ or Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood, there is no shortage of the world’s rich and powerful feeling the need to shout from the rooftops in demand for change. A change away from climate change. Stephen Hawking feels this same need and so pleads, rightly so, that “now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together.” That’s true, as when the incumbent leader of the free world is an ardent proponent of fossil fuels and a public climate psychotic (one who does not have a cognizant grasp of the weather), the call for a unification of the species is an obvious one.

How does Stephen Hawking propose we do that? “We need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations.” Sounds good so far. Even the subheading is perfect: “We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.”

So then, why does he have to completely contradict the message of his article by basing it on the premise of a separation between those who have the power to change, and those who don’t?

Here are the four instances where he uses the term “elite.” Take note of his gradual move away from what could be mistaken to be an unfortunately insipid collective noun for the world’s leaders to what is an unmistakable ignorance of his own hubris.

  1. “So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone.”
  2. “It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.”
  3. “What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react.”
  4. “We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year.”

Before commenting on this article was mysteriously stopped in its tracks, perhaps because any comment panel about climate change inevitably becomes too heated (mind the pun), I was able to put forward my interpretation of his language:

“First step would be to probably stop talking about ‘elites.’ As much as the cult of Superman has shaped people to view themselves as either those flying above the clouds or those peering up at them from down below, the perpetuation of otherisms like these breed complacency.”

And that’s essentially it. How can an article that calls for the unification of all classes of people (though Professor Hawking doesn’t quite go this far) in pursuit of the salvation of our planet instead make a call to action for the upper echelons of our society to get their act together and start doing their job of babysitting the rest of the financially and intellectually impoverished world?

Taking our atmosphere off the stove will not be because of the actions (or inactions) of the Richard Bransons of the world, who get periodically stimulated by the thought of saving the world from Armageddon. Instead, it will be due to the realization that there is no “us” and there is no “them.” The inhabitants of central Africa and the Middle East who will be tortured by the agony of violent drought will be no worse off than those intellectuals whose houses happen to sit on top of vast swathes of shale gas deposits.

There are no “elites,” for as long as there are worms in the dirt (and even this is in doubt) to return our bodies to the earth, the concept of elites and their influence on the world is as strong as a passive media allows it to be.

 

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Douglas Ross

Doug Ross is an editor, writer, and musician. Born in Queensland, his existence in Melbourne has always been overshadowed by a nagging desire to live closer to the beach. All donations to this cause will be welcome, but grossly misappropriated for use on more Melbournian pursuits. You can find him either at the pub, on his laptop, or somewhere on a stage—trying hard to not get electrocuted by his amplifier.

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