Trusting your Instincts

In our final extract from ‘Climate Change for Football Fans’ by James Atkins – the Professor asks if you can ever trust your instincts when it comes to climate change, while Joe has a brainwave about the origin of football in a post hunter-gatherer society.


“It’s hopeless, isn’t it?” said Joe to me looking up from his Sun. We’d just got back from Blackburn where they’d beaten us two goals to nothing. Joe always buried himself in the Sun when there was no hope.

“You mean the Blackburn game?” piped up Igor.

Joe said nothing. The Blackburn game was something special. Losing it hurt double. He slumped back behind his newspaper.

Doris explained to Igor that Joe had it bad. “Look at him behind that paper, like an ostrich.”

Igor sipped his tea. “Yes, our instincts are funny things. Take climate change, for example. If it’s really such a big problem, why don’t people do something about it by themselves, without needing the government to bother us with more laws and red-tape? Why don’t we do something about it because it’s in our selfinterest?”

“If it gets bad enough, they will do, won’t they? In the end, I mean,” said Doris.

The Professor shook his head. “In the end they might, but the end is exactly what we want to avoid. Our nature is not equipped to respond to threats like this.”

“Actually,” began Joe, raising his voice. “I did mean the Blackburn game, but…” He sensed it was too late

The Professor chuckled. He explained that the instincts which we evolved were good at guiding our behaviour in small packs as hunter-gatherers in thinly populated territories: aggression, competitiveness, selfishness, perseverance, and so forth. The trouble was that they didn’t work for us any more.

“Our evolution made us good at some things. But completely neglected other things. Our instincts serve us well in times of shortage but poorly in times of plenty. And some of those instincts serve us terribly when we want to cut emissions.”

“Like?” asked Joe.

“Think about eating meat. It tastes good and comforting. In times of shortage to get a chunk of fatty meat down you is important, so we evolved a great sense of satisfaction from eating meat. With central heating and indoor living you don’t need all that fat. But our instinct still makes us want to eat meat, and it happens to be the most emissions-intensive form of food.” Joe said Igor should give meat a rest.

“Then look at laziness, that feeling that you want to avoid effort. It’s useful if you need to conserve energy. But it’s disastrous if you have no shortage of food, because you end up not getting enough exercise. And it means we use mechanised energy to do work for us.”

“Flipping heck,” said Joe, suddenly bright-eyed. “Could that be why they invented football? I mean, so you can get exercise even when you don’t need to go out hunting anymore?”

The Professor thought for a moment, then burst out with delight. “Of course! Football replaces hunting in times of plenty. And it replaces war in times of peace. Joe! Fine work!” Joe tried to give the Prof a high five, but Igor wasn’t used to that kind of thing and made a mess of it. Doris said proudly: “He’s not that daft, is he?”

“Not at all. We used to spend time fighting each other for resources or to get the best mate. Fighting speeded up the survival of the fittest because it was the strongest who got the best mate. But nowadays we don’t need to fight, and people feel restless and itchy because they can’t satisfy that instinct. This explains football. But unfortunately not everyone turns to football. Some devote themselves to self-fulfilment, ambition, chasing illusions, and so forth. And that creates our high-energy society.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s