We just don’t get it
If allowed to play out, climate change threatens to be the most epic failure in human history, worse than all the wars ever fought combined. Floods and droughts are already leading to clean water and food shortages. Over the next decades, the scale of disruption could increase conflict and refugees to a level unthinkable to us today. But most of us go about our daily business as if the problem did not exist.
We are daunted
Even those able to imagine the world spiralling into chaos are daunted by the scale of the problems needing to be solved.
Tragedy of the Horizon
Human beings are unable to care much about long term issues. And when no one else wants to talk about it, that makes it even harder. Even worse, the way civilisation has evolved leaves our thinking and operating procedures ill prepared for addressing long term existential threats.
We often unconsciously separate people into goodies and baddies, the assumption being that all we need to do is bash the baddies so the goodies win the day. Job done? This is the ‘Hollywood school of thought’, and unfortunately we all suffer from it. Goodies/baddies is a useful device for stories, but the world does not operate as a story in reality.
Now that climate change is upon us, many dedicated, creative people find themselves working for ‘baddie’ companies, especially fossil fuel companies. However, many of these people could be vital for developing the new technologies needed to create a sustainable world. They don’t want a catastrophic outcome any more than anyone else.
..leading to polarisation / tribalism
This is rife in our conversations on environmental issues, especially on the internet. We get accused of being trolls, industrial shills (promoters), warmists (wrong to think the planet is warming) or watermelons (green on the outside and red – left-wing – on the inside). In short, we become baddies to be denounced or discredited.
Spoken conversations are usually more civil than written exchanges, so perhaps a good guide is to ask oneself “Would I say that to this person face to face?”
No one wants to admit they were wrong
It’s difficult to change our minds on long held beliefs, so to avoid looking silly we just evade the issue, even if we know it’s important. We are more interested in being right than the reality, as explored here:
Leadership is risky
With a topic as complex and controversial as climate change no one wants to put their head above the parapet, when that risks getting shot at.
For example, many scientists are afraid to speak out about what they see coming down the line. Outspoken climate scientist Dr. James Hansen calls this scientific reticence.
Over-moralising turns most people off.
Evolved norms are inadequate to the task of solving problems as big as climate change. For example, most powerful individuals are hard-wired to pursue further accumulation of personal wealth, unaware that their advantageous position could be used for proactive engagement on potential solutions.
Next: Systemic Problems