a row of books on a bookcase

Dave Cormier, Musk, and Climate Change: A review of “Learning in a Time of Abundance”.

Back in June 2023 Musk Tweeted

A screenshot of 2 twitter social media posts Tweet 1 is from an Elon Musk fan who tweets quotes from Musk it reads "As long as there is not something that is causing an error in the pricing system, as there is because of the unpriced externality which is the CO2 capacity of the oceans and atmosphere, the market system works very well." Elon Musk The second Tweet is a reply from Musk. It reads "Important to note that what happens on Earth’s surface (eg farming) has no meaningful impact on climate change. Overwhelmingly, the risk of climate change is due to moving billions of tons of carbon from deep underground into the atmosphere. Over time, if we keep doing this, the chemical makeup of our atmosphere will change enough to induce meaningful climate change." The post indicates it has recieved 10.4million views. It was retweeted 6054 times, 840 quote tweets, 46.4 thousand likes, and 1541 bookmarks

What has this tweet, and climate change got to do with Dave Cormier and his new book?  

Let’s start with Cormier’s Book. I’m oversimplifying his arguments, but essentially he argues (very well) that we are living in a time of information abundance. This means that it can seem that we are faced with an overwhelming volume of information that transcends our ability to thoroughly scrutinize it. Cormier’s book is an attempt to equip us with the knowledge to navigate learning in our digital society, in uncertain times, and a time when some people use information as a weapon, his book is a guide to deciphering truth in a time when information is growing exponentially. 

The tweet at the start of this post seems like a simple enough statement, and it’s very plausible. But extreme wealth, and having a platform, are not the same as being an expert on a subject. In Cormier’s analysis of a post-truth world, he emphasizes the concept of “community as curriculum.” This refers to a learning model that favours adaptability, community learning, or rhizomatic learning as he has previously used, and acknowledging the subjectivity and context of knowledge. If we apply this to our understanding of climate change, we must look at multiple viewpoints, and most importantly interrogate the sources and motivations behind information.  

The Headline of Musk’s tweet is where the “mis-information” comes in, and the need to look at the sources. Musk doesn’t add any reference to this statement, he follows it up with some “science-sounding” phrases that are actually meaningless and detract from his main message – “nothing we do on the surface of the earth, such as farming impacts the climate”. But by the time we have read the tweet, many people will have just tacitly agreed. 

Let’s just unpick Musk’s message by looking at farming. (you’ll see references for my assertions at the bottom of the page)

  • Farming, particularly meat and dairy production, contributes significantly to climate change and other environmental problems, accounting for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (1)
  • Animal agriculture contributes to approximately 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions (1)
  • Over a third of Earth’s habitable land is used for animal farming, making it the leading cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss. Deforestation not only leads to emissions, but it also hinders carbon sequestration. (2)
  • Between 2020 and 2022, less than 0.5% of climate change stories by leading news outlets mentioned meat or livestock and the media often presents meat’s role in climate change as an open debate, despite the clear evidence. (3)
  • In the US, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has been accused of running a “climate messaging machine” that confuses the public about beef’s emissions. (4)
  • Delegates from Brazil and Argentina lobbied the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to remove mention of meat’s negative impact on the environment. (5)

The flood of information surrounding climate change is an example of the need for a book such as “Learning in a time of information abundance”. On one hand, we have access to vast amounts of data and scientific studies supporting the urgent need for action. On the other hand, we are also confronted with an array of misinformation, skewing our understanding of the true extent of the crisis and who and what is responsible for it. 

The reality of climate change and the effect of our dietary choices are being lost in a sea of misinformation, manipulation, and denial in the media. In our journey toward understanding and sense-making of the vast amounts of information, Dave Cormier implores us to become “critical knowledge consumers,” continuously questioning the source, purpose, and potential bias behind the information we encounter. The narratives we construct and consume in our post-truth world are never neutral. In an age of information abundance, the challenge isn’t just to access information but to discern its quality, credibility, and relevance, and match them to our values. By integrating Cormier’s principles of rhizomatic learning and critical knowledge consumption, we can better navigate the information ecosystem, allowing us to confront and challenge the overlooked connection between arguments, such as climate change and our dietary choices.

Disclaimer: I know Dave Cormier reasonably well. His book is available in January 2024 in all good independent bookshops (if you ask them) and it also on the Amazon if you must. 

The cover of a book. "learning in a time of abundance - The community is the curriculum" by Dave Cormier. It's teal, with geometric shapes and a face in the middle. It's got a sort of 70's vibe but in more pastel colours

References

(1) Vermeulen, S.J., Campbell, B.M. and Ingram, J.S.I. (2012) ‘Climate Change and Food Systems’, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 37(1), pp. 195–222. doi:10.1146/annurev-environ-020411-130608.  

(2) Searchinger, T., Wirsenius, S., Beringer, T., & Dumas, P. (2018). Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change. Nature, 564(7735), 249–253. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0757-z 

(3) https://madrebrava.org/media/pages/insight/people-don-t-see-industrial-meat-as-a-key-cause-of-global-warming-poll/e502b3de61-1678981785/meat-and-climate-media-coverage-analysis_madre-brava_16-march.pdf

(4) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/may/03/beef-industry-public-relations-messaging-machine

(5) https://qz.com/ipcc-report-on-climate-change-meat-industry-1850261179

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