How Should We Think About Climate Change?

It’s proven climate change is real, relevant and rapidly changing our planet’s future. In response, to Psychology Today’s article , Heather unpicks why “Climate Change Denial” is still so apparently common and how we can address this as conscientious climate advocates.

Psychology Today’s article on Climate Change Denial highlights that one of the reasons for denial is our human ‘flight’ response to fear (or, I’d also argue, sadness or hopelessness/helplessness at ‘the state of the world’). However, this mentality can be confronted with the reverse: acceptance of climate change.

“Nevertheless, there are at least two psychological reasons that encouraging people to adopt climate protecting activities in their daily lives may help promote action on the larger scale needed.”

The question has been raised as to how effective our individual lifestyle actions can be, when faced with the macrocosmic scale that is required to address climate change. It is true that small individual changes aren’t enough to address the whole issue, plus there’s a risk of a false sense of security in “I’ve already done ‘my bit’”. However, in making such changes and even continuing to adapt to new issues you learn about (i.e. in considering the carbon footprint of food even after an initial lifestyle shift, such as choosing plant milks more carefully after cutting out dairy), the power of denial itself can be mitigated.

What’s the root of the fear that denial stems from?

Predominantly, we are being faced with the fact that carbon emissions are posing an indispensable extinction threat to humanity – within this century. This is a phenomenal concept to accept and address. Despite scientific evidence and evident manifestations in climatic events, the large scale on which it is occurring may give it almost abstract implications that we desensitise ourselves to. For example, politicians are more likely to address a political issue raised within the human population than ‘the planet’ itself.   

As Auden Schendler and Andrew P. Jones posit: Solving climate is going to be harder, and more improbable, than winning World War II, achieving civil rights, defeating bacterial infection and sending a man to the moon all together.”

Something that connects all of these events was that a challenge was posed that required drastic planning, plus progressive shifts in ideology and technology, within a short space of time. There was a necessity recognisable for the sake of the human condition, on a global scale. Climate change needs the emphasis that it is as much of a human issue as our most profound recent historical events.

In order to emphasise this, ‘the planet’ needs spokespeople as a reminder that ‘the planet’ is fundamental to the very existence of humanity. In acknowledging, then, that there are shifts that are needed even within the microcosmic scale of our own lives – let alone on the scale of ‘the whole planet’ – we are addressing one of the current most significant issues to humanity by acceptance of its existence. While this in itself isn’t enough to overcome the threat (as individuals, we are not superhuman. No single human can, or should be expected to, completely save the world), it’s a progressive move in the right direction.

As an antithesis to denial, the key concept that needs to be recognised and addressed is how “only the complete cessation of greenhouse gas emissions will save us”. How can making a microcosmic move progress onto a more macrocosmic level, where greenhouse gas emissions are completely eradicated? Where politicians and unions catch on and address this issue as a priority on the scale of ‘the planet’?

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How can you persuade climate change deniers in the interest of the planet?

How can individually pushing against denial matter on a larger scale?

We can already see how, once the individual demand increases within one area of lifestyle (i.e. the demand for more vegetarian or vegan options,  the plastic and waste reduction movements), the ‘trend’ means key companies begin to catch on (and voila, even shreddies packets have a massive vegan label on them, and you’re carrying a reusable cup everywhere). This is just an example of how individual ideas are being pushed into a collective consciousness, as we culturally grow more aware.

Climate change is sort of like chaos theory: greenhouse gas emissions (butterfly fluttering its wings across the ocean) and climate change (hurricane initiated by butterfly’s wing), equals the potential threat of human extinction (chaos). However, if we flip this around, a vision that may seem too idealistic, or even utopian, though this shouldn’t be the case and it should be viewed as an attainable purpose, appears:

Individual awareness and lifestyle change plus change of a larger scale, where lifestyles collectively shift on a cultural level, making denial less possible and setting awareness towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions as a political purpose, equals saving ‘the planet’. Not just because a bunch of hippies are sad about some trees being cut down, but because a human goal is to save other humans.

In making this ‘human goal’ our individual personal goal, we can make a move towards showing others that this is a reasonable and rational purpose.  

About the Author: Heather Grant studies English Literature at the Uni of York, read her blog here.

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