In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. – Proverbs 18:17
When I posted Part 4 a week ago, I breathed a sigh of relief. I figured this string had run its course, and I was entitled to (and should) start another thread. But then two things happened to make me change my mind. For one John Plodinec’s comment on Part 4 rolled in, and I want to call it to your attention. His perspective is always thoughtful, and usually divergent from mine – therefore doubly welcome. Readers are treated to another view, and then are better positioned to sort out their own thinking on the subject of the day. This has been well-known for some time; for example, the idea is captured by the Biblical proverb cited above, which dates back something like 2500 years.
(As you can see from John’s comment, he found even less to like about my post than usual. I possibly erred by thinking it would be clear from a read of the post as well as the opening quote – emphasizing fixing the problem rather than assigning blame, no matter how justified – that I wasn’t so much endorsing societal emphasis on reparations as I was advocating focus on the root problem. I coulda/shoulda been more clear😊.)
Secondly, it happened that on the same day another colleague reminded me – rather more gently, but in a way equally compelling – that nations and peoples suffering losses and damage from climate change generally need more than money; they need sustained presence and support alongside.
So, taking a deep breath – John, please don’t misinterpret this as doubling down – here goes.
For the well-off world to pony up the money to help poorer countries remediate loss and damage from climate change is only just the beginning. That support, to accomplish its desired ends, needs follow-through. This might take any or all of several forms. To start, donor nations should invest more assets – people, time, etc. – in listening, in seeking more understanding from the nations and peoples suffering loss and damage about the events and circumstances the latter see as leading to calamity, and how they seek to prevent recurrence. That might be followed or accompanied by on-the-ground collaboration. This can take several forms; America’s Peace Corps provides one relatively successful (though imperfect) model. One useful feature of that initiative is that even the most expert, trained individuals initially find themselves isolated and therefore forced to seek first to understand, rather than be understood.
This segues into a last example, which many people might have put first: the follow-through might include advice. (One prominent example is U.S. agriculture trade development and assistance since the Eisenhower administration.) U.S. international assistance has a checkered history, featuring both successes and failures.
The bottom line is that loss-and-damage funding makes all this needed relationship building, which is the ultimate goal, more likely to happen. The reasoning here actually as a name: the Ben Franklin effect: a psychological phenomenon in which people like someone more after doing a favour for them. An explanation for this is cognitive dissonance. People reason that they help others because they like them, even if they do not, because their minds struggle to maintain logical consistency between their actions and perceptions.
The Benjamin Franklin effect, in other words, is the result of one’s concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in one’s personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted.
(To quote Franklin: “He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”)
In sum, the most important part of loss and damages payments is not the dollars themselves, but their role in opening the door to the myriad trusting, collaborative relationships that the world needs if we are to cope with climate change.