This is a guest post by Jessica Eise. Jessica is the author of The Communication Scarcity in Agriculture and is a blogger on complex cultural trends. She is the Director of Communications at Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics.
I recently wrote about the absurdity of delegating the climate change battle to scientists alone. It’s akin to asking the programmers at Microsoft to manage the public relations, marketing and communications (while they keep coding, mind you). This is absurd. It took all of us humans expanding Earth’s greenhouse effect to get to where we are today, and it’s going to take all of us to get ourselves back out of it.
Except many people don’t think that it was ‘us’ who got us to where we are today. Humans aren’t responsible for climate change, they argue. This is the latest evolution of climate change denial. Originally, climate change wasn’t happening at all (there are still pockets of people who believe this). Now, sure, it’s happening. But it wasn’t us who caused it.
The battle against climate change requires that we institute change. Instituting change requires the buy-in of society. Society must give the government license to implement policies, and people themselves must agree to unite towards a common goal. With pockets of people entrenched in a bizarre denial towards climate change, they are actively sabotaging society’s progress in tackling this problem.
The scientific evidence is abundant and clear; climate change is happening. Proving it is no longer the fight. Convincing people that they’re the ones causing it (and consequently they must take action to mitigate it), conveying the urgency of the situation and persuading them to take action (and give their government the necessary social license to take action), is today’s major front line.
In the article, “Why Smart People Deny Climate Change,” David Berreby hits the nail on the head:
For those who have to deal with it professionally, after all, climate change isn’t in dispute. Agriculture experts, epidemiologists, disaster preparedness teams, civil engineers, military planners and the like can no more deny the state of the climate than an astronaut could believe in a Flat Earth. It’s a part of their jobs, and, as NASA’s Gavin Schmidt puts it, “gases don’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat – left wing, right wing – libertarian, or conservative.” Why aren’t the rest of us like the pros?
“Contrarian scientists, fossil fuels corporations, conservative think tanks, and various front groups have assaulted mainstream climate science and scientists for over two decades,” write Riley E. Dunlap and Aaron M. McCright in Organized Climate Change Denial, a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. By the second paragraph they have, quite readily, answered the question plaguing many of us – the ‘why’ question. Why do people deny the irrefutable science of climate change?
The motivations of the various cogs of the denial machine vary considerably, from economic (obvious in the case of the fossil fuels industry) to personal (reflected in the celebrity status enjoyed by a few individuals), but the glue that holds most of them together is shared opposition to government regulatory efforts to ameliorate climate change, such as restrictions on carbon emissions.
In layman’s terms, they’re saying: companies want to make money, people want attention but, mostly, they all want the government to mind its own business so they can do whatever they want.
Surely there must be more. Selfishness alone cannot explain it all.
I suspect, underneath the many layers of justifications and rationalizations, it is fear that is driving denial.
In The People Paradox, published in 2009 at Ecology and Society, Dickinson follows up on Ernest Becker’s 1973 work The Denial of Death, suggesting that when people are confronted by death they often react by shoring up their worldview, rejecting anyone or anything which threatens it, and focusing on self-esteem. (Dana Blankenhorn)
Climate change is terrifying; we could be facing the extinction, or mass decimation, of our entire species. And isn’t it so much easier to deny this, than to be forced to confront it while lying awake at night wondering if our cavalier consumerism has brought about the end of time?
Or face the fear of change? Of having to alter the way we live, and stop doing things the way we’ve always been doing them? A fear of the discomfort we must face at weathering change? A fear of not having everything exactly the same as it was before.
Or confront one’s fear of the hard reality that we, mankind, must take responsibility for our actions? And that a divine entity is not going to step in and take over what we’ve so thoroughly messed up? And if that is so, then what else will must we face?
The painful irony is that it may not be climate change that really does us in at the end, but our underlying inability to find the courage to face fear and carry on. Denying climate change, and the causes of it, isn’t just stupid and selfish; it’s cowardly.
Berreby, David. “Why Smart People Deny Climate Change.” Big Think. N.p., 05 June 2012. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.
Dickinson, J. L. 2009. The people paradox: self-esteem striving, immortality ideologies, and human response to climate change. Ecology and Society 14(1): 34.
Dryzek, John S., Richard Norgaard B., and David Schlosberg. Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.
Eise, Jessica. “All Hands on Deck: The Fight against Climate Change.” Jessica Eise. N.p., 18 July 2016. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.