Friday, July 10, 2015

On Climate Change Denial: Fear

The ballad of sad climatologists is about the despair some researchers of climate change feel* when too many (most in the US) deny the reality of climate change and/or refuse to push their governments to do anything about it.   Not being able to sleep, worrying about what might happen when Bangladesh will be under water, where all those people will go if they don't drown.  Worrying about the coming water wars, the coming large migrations (which probably have already begun), the unrest and violence which will follow those.  And then having to get up, go to work and face vitriol from the deniers and the oil industry hacks.

Academics were not trained for any of that, and what those interviewed feel has my sympathy.  Brother Vitriol visits me often, I have often been unable to sleep for slightly different but equally political reasons, and I have had to grow a thick shell and the ability to put political thoughts into their own little cupboards (hate by Xs in one, hate by Ys in the other), to be locked in when the writing day is over.  Some of that works.  When it doesn't, I pretend it does.

Isn't that cheerful?

But the article also notes that accepting the fact of climate change is almost impossible for many, too frightening to be faced, too demanding in its solutions.  What are we to give up to save the earth?  Our cell phones, computers, trans-Atlantic flights?  Our cars?  Everything that people call the "American dream?"

And if we do give up all those things but our neighbors will not, nothing much will change.  We are still careening towards a dystopian world, only now we are not even having any fun on the trip. 

We need united acts.  But the Republican Party does not support those for reasons which are evident in this table:

The message I took from the linked Esquire article is that we shouldn't frighten ordinary people, because the fear of earth dying is paralyzing**.  Such an inconceivable fear causes depression and it might ultimately makes us less able to act.  No, we should frighten the governments to do the right thing, to take those steps which on the overall level will make the most difference, to cut where cutting helps the most, to make it easier for individuals to live lives which won't put extra burdens on the earth.

It's not only fear which matters here but also greed.  I doubt that calling ordinary people greedy would be a better publicity campaign than working on their fears.  But acknowledging the way greed works, acknowledging the political clout of the oil industry and acknowledging the extremely short-sighted views of too many American politicians, all those are useful steps to take.

If I were designing the publicity campaign about how to halt climate change I would focus on any victories against climate change, however tiny and precarious, to use them to convince people that once one step has been taken the next steps will be easier, that acting in some united way still  can make a difference.  It may not reverse climate change, probably won't.  But it might save millions of people in the future, some of which just might be our own great-great-grandchildren.
*I don't have the expertise to judge the science of the interviewed people, but the overall findings of the field certainly don't support climate change deniers.

**It is also extremely difficult to fathom.  To imagine a world where perhaps hundreds of millions are running away from rising sea levels, a world where  agriculture might fail in large parts of the world, a world where even in the US coastal cities would disappear requires abilities which most people find difficult to use.  One consequence of that difficulty is the increasing attraction of denying the fear altogether.