New Strategies Needed to Fight Climate Change
The Psychology of Fighting Climate Change
Climate change is a great risk to our world, maybe the greatest. Climate change related threats like rising seas, drought, floods, and strains on food production threaten our way of life, and the lives of billions of others. These changes are not all in the distant future - they are already underway today, and getting increasingly hard to ignore. And yet, as a planet and a people, we’ve barely started to address this problem. Greenhouse gas emissions dipped briefly in the midst of the Great Recession, but have since continued to soar, along with the global temperature.
Why is this? How could it be that we face the greatest threat of our time, and as a species seem to be doing little about it? A great many individuals, cities, even countries have made impressive efforts, but the overall impact so far is nowhere near enough to avoid the worst case scenarios.
One answer might be that people just don’t know the facts. According to surveys though, most people know about climate change and even agree with the statement that humans are causing it. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, wrote, “Since the year 2000, numerous public opinion polls demonstrate that large majorities of Americans are aware of global warming (92%), believe that global warming is real and already underway (74%).” We know there’s a problem. We’re just not excited about doing something to fix it.
A more likely answer lies in anxiety. Climate change is not just a technological problem or a political one, but a psychological challenge. A threat this great can generate a great deal of anxiety if we let it. So we don’t.
When facing a threat like this, we can do one of three things. We can (1) take immediate action to fix the problem, (2) get anxious and stay anxious until the problem goes away on its own, or (3) harness the power of denial to turn off the anxiety and feel better. The answers to solve climate change are not quick and easy, and a state of constant anxiety is almost unbearable. Given the options, denial is an easy and immediately gratifying course, relieving the anxiety that threatens to overwhelm us.
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Glenn Croston is the author of The Real Story of Risk: Adventures in a Hazardous World, exploring the twisted ways we see risks and how this affects our lives and our world. You can read more at www.realstoryofrisk.com. He is also the author of Gifts from the Train Station, and 75 Green Businesses You Can Start to Make Money and Make a Difference.