Why do people in the rich part of the world not get involved in the climate battle, in spite of the fact that we know so much?
This question I received from a friend in the climate movement recently. This article is an outline of an answer.
First I would like to put a big question mark after the claim that “we know so much.”
Those of us who are active in the fight against climate change are active because WE know a lot, because WE take it seriously, not just intellectually. We are letting reality seep down into the body, opening up to the feelings it triggers in us, and allowing this to be expressed in political action. Because we just feel that we have no choice. Because we see the future consequences of what is happening today and the necessity to act now if our descendants shall have a chance of survival. We think in a longterm perspective, and are open to face reality and not engage in unrealistic wishful thinking. Therefore we listen to science and the few of our leaders who dare stand up and paint a true picture for us. Unlike the majority of media and leaders.
This has the consequence that we know much more about the urgency of changing our lifestyles, if we are to save the planet as a livable place for our species. And thus we have made this the focus of our life.
But as a percentage of population, we represent a very small minority. The vast majority react completely differently. Which is tragic for all of us.
Short term thinking
Most people live with a very shortsighted – and narrow – perspective. Are keen to make the basics of their everyday life work. The here-and-now, the daily activities, family life, work, finances, mental health problems, acute problem solving – all that fills up most people’s lives. The perspective is often days – weeks – months. Not years or decades.
And what drives most people has a huge selfish component. The idea of setting aside their own interests to give future generations a chance for a life is quite remote for most people.
It is true that most people have heard of, and thus can be said to “know” a lot about climate change. Public media do convey some knowledge, but most of us are reading / watching / listening what we want to face up to and puts the head in the sand when information gets too troublesome.
To me, it´s relevant to think about 3 levels of denial
- You deny that climate change is taking place and / or that it is manmade. Fortunately, there are not many people who still think this way. . However, only a few are allowing this knowledge to turn into an emotional reality. Thus arrive at the next level:
- You acknowledge that climate change is real and that it is manmade. But this recognition remains in your head, it’s too scary to allow it to become an emotional reality. You simply do not dare to open up to the feelings concerning how dangerous this is or can become – either for yourself or for your descendants.
- Political denial means that you both recognize that climate change is real and man-made, accept the emotions this is causing, for instance feelings of powerlessness, sadness, pain, anxiety – perhaps anger – over this.
- But you leave to others to do something about it. The feeling of powerlessness and apathy leads you to not involve yourself in practical action on a political level. You probably think that your efforts are not important, that you cannot contribute anything of importance. And when others seem not to care either, you continue “business as usual.
Different age groups – different motivations
In my attempts contribute to increased awareness of this I have experienced that different groups have very different reasons NOT to engage in the climate battle – NOT to allow intellectual knowledge to become the emotional and political knowledge:
- Parents with children at home and full-time jobs are much too busy making ends meet in their everyday life. Even talking about their children’s future is not enough to make them receptive to messages concerning the urgency of action now.
- Families with full job and without children are often financially and otherwise so well off that the resistance to getting out of the comfort zone is extreme.
- Unfortunately, many from the “grandparent generation” feel and act similarly.
As a consequence of this, if we are to solve this problem, the main focus must be to go via youth and children – who then, hopefully – in turn can put pressure on their parents, etc etc.
Humans are very good to using defense mechanisms to avoid making difficult changes in life. Denial is one of them:
“My mind is made up don’t confuse me with facts”
“It’s too late anyway, it all goes to hell. So rather have a first class cabin with all included, celebrating with full party and music when the Titanic is going down – rather than giving up our short sighted comfort”
Some less cynical, but very common defense mechanisms:
- Resistance to go out of your comfort zone
- Resistance to face the necessity to change lifestyle
- The pursuit of good arguments to continue business as usual
The role of the news media:
If the media had done their job they should be full of scary scenarios and proposed solutions every day instead of advertising, sports, and indifferent points and causes. And at the same time adding space to downsizing the challenges. This gives a news picture, which distorts reality and adds to desinformation and doubt. And when most people get their news input from media supporting status quo, it is obvious that John Doe has many good reasons NOT to care. The media tells him that everything is, if not quite normal, then in any case not particularly dangerous, and absolutely not dangerous enough for him to wake up, get out of his comfort zone, and act.
The same applies to our elected leaders:
Only very few dare to describe present predicament of the planet in a realistic fashion. Most of them stick to advocate the possibility of continued growth in all areas. They join forces at climate summits, promising each other to do what´s needed, and many of them go back to their countries, initiating policies that are totally at odds with the promises given. All in all signaling a double standard. Double standard is arguably twice as well as morals. And this hypocrisy legitimizes that people are not taking the present close-to-extinction-scenario seriously. Good nutrition for defenses, apathy, and “business as usual”.
And even if we know, that we need to change our lifestyle dramatically if we shall have a chance to survive as a species, it seems our leaders are not willing to give the marching order in this direction. Maybe out of fear of loosing popularity, maybe for other reasons. So everybody is confirmed in their belief: “It´s not really dangerous”.
In conclusion, I want to invite you all to join me in the great pleasure I had, listening to Kevin Anderson in the podcast below. His message is: WE NEED TO ACT. NOW. Thus underpinning my messages here, based on rock solid science.
I sincerely hope you’ll listen to it!