May 28, 2010 A University of Alberta researcher says people generally do not act on information about the effects fossil fuel-based products are having on the environment. And the reason, says English and film studies researcher Imre Szeman, is because of the way discussions on environmental issues are structured.
In a recently published study, Szeman says the main assumption among scientists -- that with knowledge comes behavioural change -- is proving to be an ineffective premise in dealing with environmental problems resulting from oil production and use.
In "System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster," Szeman says there are three social narratives that prevent people from acting on the knowledge they have concerning the effects of oil on the environment: strategic realism, the notion that oil production is good because it supports economic security; eco-apocalypse, which Szeman explains as our incapacity to act on knowledge we have; and technological utopianism, the belief that technology will solve environmental problems resulting from oil and its usage.
"Technological utopianism is a very bizarre narrative because there's no evidence of this fact," said Imre. "What it shows is the extent to which we place a lot of faith in narratives of progress and technology overcoming things, despite all evidence to the contrary."
Szeman adds oil use has become a deeply cultural issue and thus any kind of solution has to be cultural, and not just infrastructure or technology-based.
"We know that oil use is damaging to the environment; we know that we should act differently, but we also know that we can't. We just try not to think of it," he said.
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- Szeman et al. System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster. South Atlantic Quarterly, 2007; 106 (4): 805 DOI: 10.1215/00382876-2007-047
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