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Change is Pain


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The very idea of impending change seems capable of paralyzing the average westerner. We have a built-in lll-founded belief that nothing will change – ever, unless it improves my life and comforts. The reality however, is that we are likely to see more change than we wish for in our lifetime. George Monbiot describes our fear of change like this…

Monbiot – Stop Building Tanks

When you drive along familiar roads, for example, the brain’s basal ganglia function as a kind of autopilot, performing routine functions without the need for conscious thought. When you go abroad, and have to drive on the other side of the road, you must make use of the prefrontal cortex, which burns more energy than the basal ganglia. We perceive high levels of energy use much as we perceive pain. For good biological reasons we seek to avoid them. We engage with change only when we have to.

That’s a horribly simplified account of some very complex processes, but you get the general idea. Change is pain, a change for the worse is double pain. We pretend it’s not there, up to – often beyond – the point at which it starts hammering on the door.

[ad#125-right]And because marketers, inventors, and well, everyone, understands this fear of change, the natural inclination is to minimize the change through technology rather than forced change, Monbiot again…

So environmentalists seek to persuade us that we’ll love the green transition. Downshifting, voluntary simplicity, alternative hedonism – whatever they call it it’s presented as a change for the better. A new green deal will save the planet, the workforce and the economy. Energy efficiency will protect the bottom line as well as the biosphere. A less frantic life will allow us to enjoy the small wonders that surround us.

There is both exaggeration and truth in all this, but effective action also involves a change for the worse: regulation, rationing,
austerity, state spending. “Little by little,” Livy wrote 2000 years ago, “we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them.”

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Change is pain. Pain reminds us of our humanity and that really we are not in control – we like to think so, but only a fool would believe that the fossil fuel party, or for that matter the whole energy and consumption party we are in the midst of, will be forever.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.