So if 3 million people in France are demonstrating against one horrible act of violence (I am not playing down it’s gruesome nature!) then certainly we must have enough compassion to take action to prevent a global catastrophy, which could cause certainly millions and possibly hundreds of millions of casualties and make life on this planet much more difficult for coming generations. So why is this not happening yet at a large scale?
To answer this question, I have to look into myself. Unfortunately, I have also pushed away my knowledge about climate change for a long time. I could have done more to live ecologically. And to warn my friends and relatives about what is happening. Recently my concern has resurfaced strongly, causing me to contemplate the causes of this denial. By investigating my own mind and observing others, I have found certain explanations. Besides, I have also found some articles of psychologists on this subject ( http://tinyurl.com/CDenial ). I would like to share this with you. Maybe you will recognize something of what I say, enabling you to recognize and overcome your own fear, denial and seeming indifference towards climate change.
I have found there is not just one explanation but a myriad of them
- – First of all, there is the obvious fact that I don’t see any climate change. All I can notice with my senses is that is storms a little harder, and the winters are becoming a little warmer. Without science telling me, I would have no idea that these are the first signs of impending catastrophy. Besides, carbon dioxide is not poisonous in itself, nor even noticeable. It does not seem to directly affect my life, or the life of the ones I care for.
- – Even in areas where people start to notice the damage, (for example in reduced crops due to more droughts), the change is so slow that people start to regard the new situation as normal. If you throw a frog in a tub of hot water, it will jump out immediately. If you throw it in a tub of lukewarm water and heat it up slowly, it will just sit there until it dies.
- – If science would discover a big asteroid would hit the earth in 2062, humanity would immediately mobilize all its resources to eliminate the threat. In the case of climate change, there is no date. As a result, much less action happens.This reveals an important aspect of our psychology. Our brains are wired to deal with problems which have a clear location, a clear time it will happen, a clear cause and solution, and a clear enemy which has to be overcome. In the case of climate change, there is no clear place because it happens everywhere. There is no clear solution because there are many solutions. And there is no clear cause or enemy because all of us are causing the problem. All of this prevents our brains from identifying climate change as a threat.
- – On top of this, the way climate change is communicated by the media is questionable. Although many people would complain that they are flooded with messages about the problem, most information is eighter superficial or fragmented – giving detailed information about small aspects. What is lacking is often an in-depth overview of the totality of the problem, it’s causes and possible solutions. For example, on the basis of the information in the media, it is very difficult for people to form an opinion about what is needed to attain a carbon-free economy. What are the possible road-maps for attaining this, and how much do we need to sacrifice? Do we need to go back to the stone-age, or is it just a matter of waiting until the solar panels get cheap enough? If a superficial presentation of climate change is repeated too often, people will start to feel bored with it. As a result, people might easily start to mistrust the message itself.
- – An then there are the many distractions. Advertisements are of course also an example of this. We spent a lot of time shopping and entertaining ourselves. But most of all, we are distracted by our busy lives. Which is so full of really important, as well as trivial problems
- – The kind of work we do also does not bring us in touch with nature. The majority of people spents their workingday communicating from behind a computer. Rarely anyone creates something physical with his own hands. Most people are focused on personal relationships and their own internal thoughts and emotions about these. Besides that there are the functional relationships; financial relationships, administrative relationship, political relationships, judicial relationships… All of these together form a cloud of collective thoughts most people live in. After all, financial, administrative and political facts only exist within our minds. Although we may still enjoy our food, there seems to be very little awareness left that our existence actually has a physical basis. If this already makes us insensitive for the pollutions which affect our health, how much more so for the invisible pollution which affects our climate?
- – In this situation, climate change is often presented as an overwhelming and possibly hopeless challenge.The message we have to sacrifice a lot is already unpleasant. But the way climate change is being presented makes this message almost as painful as facing our own mortality! Even if we do not deny it outright, we forget about it as much as possible. We acknowledge its existence, yet it does not seem to be entirely real. Just like our own mortality!
- – No matter how selfish this attitude may seem, it can even be rationalized. If it were really true we cannot do anything, all our concern would only produce unproductive worry. It can be beneficial to act, but of course it is never beneficial to worry. Yet by pushing the problem away, we create this nagging feeling in our subconscious that we have done something wrong. Which makes us even more irritatable when someone tries to bring up the subject. When enough people have this attitude, it becomes against the informal social rules to speak about it at all. Even in circles where people like to babble about politics. Often under a pretext like: ‘Yeah, yeah, we know this already!’ This is not good for us individually, and not for our society as well.