TWENTY MINUTE READ
YOU WOULD WONDER WHY. AS IT IS OUR OWN SURVIVAL THAT IS NOW AT STAKE.
However, don’t take my word for it.
With most of our planet run by boffins, the truth is far more worrying.
While the earth itself is preparing to release billions of tons of trapped methane we are still busy pumping billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, to help it do so.
Nobody is asking the question of what price should we attract to a century-long drought, the disappearance of the monsoon, the shut down of our ocean currents, the acidification of our oceans, the collapse of our polar regions, the submerging of our coastal cities, food shortages, mass migration, and pending wars.
Of course not.
You would think that any one of the above might cause concern.
People don’t care all that much they are more concerned with the cost of short-term living.
Here is a post by Lertzman, Renee Aron. Myth of apathy: psychoanalytic explorations of environmental degradation. Cardiff University (United Kingdom), 2010.
This term is wrongly applied to groups of people who are — on the contrary — experiencing complex and wide-ranging emotions about what is happening to them, the outcome of which is inaction.
Dr. Renée Lertzman, a psychologist and social scientist who studies the connection between psychology and ecological degradation, heads Project Inside-Out devoted to developing a new way of doing public outreach. Her Ph.D. thesis and book chapter on the Myth of Apathy were based on interviews with residents about local pollution and the resulting ecological devastation in Green Bay, Wisconsin but have wide-ranging applications to climate change apathy.
The key result of her research is that so-called apathy is largely a defense mechanism against underlying anxieties and a sense of powerlessness against the inevitable.
It turns out that when faced with environmental catastrophes, whether local or global, people tend to cope with their anxieties by pretending not to care.
People have a lot on their plate. Consider that we have to deal with pandemics, educational issues, crime, politics, and any number of other things clamoring for our attention on the national or global stage. That is all in addition to our own stuff.
We embrace things that make our lives easier or more comfortable then are made to feel guilty about it.
We often hear conflicting messages about how effective any of our actions are. Determining the cases where our actions matter almost requires an advanced degree. From recycling to wearing masks to buying organic to installing solar panels, it seems as though one size does not fit all.
Engaging people in global warming, however, is existential for us as a species — at least at our level of industrialization. We cannot give up.
If apathy and denial, however, are symptoms of deeper unconscious processes, then straightforward public awareness campaigns no longer work, especially in western democracies where decisions made from the top-down often backfire with political polarization. (If you think this is just an American or Anglo-American problem, you aren’t paying enough attention to global politics.) You can say that reducing carbon footprint does a global body good — to paraphrase the ’80s milk industry PSA — but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to drink it. In order for the painful process of overhauling the global economy to succeed, all hands need to be on deck.
Anxiety, mourning, loss, grief, and despair can all lead to not only apathy but active denial. Those people who you think are just ignorant or greedy and act it on the surface may not be. They might just feel hopeless or disconnected. This doesn’t only happen with ecological disasters. It can happen with local recessions such as the losses that turned much of the rust-belt (cities in states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, etc.) into an economically depressed and abandoned region (Flint water crisis anyone?), with workers replaced by robots or their jobs shipped overseas. Faced with uncaring leadership and monied residents decamping for sunnier and wealthier states, this hopelessness led to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, a populist who offered false hope and did nothing to slow or stop the decline.
Public campaigns intended to ignite widespread change frequently fail because they don’t address the psychological “barriers to action”. In other words, if you want people to change their behavior to become more environmentally friendly or push for political change to that effect, you have to understand why they don’t respond as you would like. While we can talk about why people don’t act as they should, those reasons often obscure the real barriers which can be far more complex than the surface reasons.
Psychology has found that when threatened people often respond irrationally, especially when those threatening situations are modern. We simply didn’t evolve to manage long-term, regional or global problems. People are fully capable of worrying about the climate and outwardly denying or saying that there is nothing they can do about it even when both of those are false.
It is no accident that George Orwell’s 1984 (written in 1948) and the concept “doublethink” were published at the same time that Sigmund Freud was publishing on ego-splitting. Despite falling out of favor in many arenas, Freud’s ideas are relevant to understanding the psychological impact of global warming and climate change. The sense of impending doom or, in the aftermath, the trauma of lived environmental catastrophe creates a need to process it all while still functioning in a society that continues to contribute to that catastrophe.
While some of us are online expressing our fears and anxieties about a world in peril, a great number of others cannot process the loss — loss of weather or climate of the past, clean air and plentiful, clean water, and of pristine forests, rivers, and lakes. These create psychological defense mechanisms that any successful public campaign needs to diffuse. Shaming campaigns are hardly effective.
We have seen the standard of living rise through the industrial age. Knowing that the fruits and comforts of this age come at such a terrible cost can lead to intense psychic conflict. Unnameable terror becomes unthinkable and feelings become fractured. People cope by denial or projecting onto others. We say it’s not happening or it’s somebody else’s fault. Shifting agency from ourselves to others (politicians, billionaires, executives, and other nations) makes us feel better in the short term but only makes us sink deeper into our sense of helplessness and apathy.
The way out is to radically rethink our approach to public awareness.
First of all, we have to recognize the internal psychic conflict people are experiencing. Loss, mourning, grief, and anxiety all play a role in dealing with both what once was (say a pristine and flourishing environment containing ecological abundance), the desire for it to be that way again (often with a denial that anything going on is out of the ordinary), and the fear that there is nothing that can be done (and therefore nothing need to be done).
We need to rethink apathy. We don’t need to get people to care more. We don’t even need to inform them more. They already care. They already know a lot about what’s going on, and more information can just drive the psychic conflict deeper. That’s how you get conspiracy theories and organized denial campaigns. That is public awareness doing more harm than good.
Moralizing climate change and shaming people for not acting better because they are “apathetic” does not necessarily lead to positive action. Rather it can strengthen defenses and have exactly the opposite effect.
Lertzmann suggests that people need to find a “home” for their concerns and desire to help. Public awareness campaigns often seek to instruct people as to what they ought and ought not to be doing but don’t really “think outside the box” in terms of finding that home. Environmental protection isn’t a black and white activity with a list of things that help and a list of things that don’t.
People who do engage in this black and white thinking often feed their own apathy. They assume that if they aren’t or don’t feel they can be doing certain specific things that the “experts” want them to do then they should do nothing. They project onto experts their own feeling of helplessness and defend against it.
People have a psychological need to explain why they aren’t doing more in order to offset their feelings. People are full of excuses. They say all recycling just ends up in the trash, so don’t recycle. Renewable power is an eyesore or impractical, so use fossil fuel. Electric cars take too long to charge (depends on the battery and charging station) or just use fossil fuels from powerplants (not if those powerplants use renewables) or don’t last (neither do ordinary cars) or only the rich can afford them (not if manufacturers get on board), so buy gas ones. Environmental organizations are only interested in money or full of “tree huggers”, so don’t support them. All of these reasons are defenses coming from a much deeper awareness of the problem than a truly apathetic person would have.
People enjoy sharing stories like the one you are reading on social media. It feels like doing something. And you know what? It is. And more importantly, it is finding a home for that concern so it doesn’t slide down into projection and defense mechanisms. But those of us who are creating these public campaigns have to be careful about what we share.
Lertzmann argues that the central feature of engaging people with the environment such as climate change is creativity. That is, if people can participate creatively, they can avoid their psychological barriers because they are no longer subject to the guilt and conflict of not being able to do the “right things” that they believe are expected of them. When people do find ways to contribute and feel that they are contributing (have agency), their sense of loss and anxiety melts into pride and joy.
Look for example at the proposal for a water pipeline from the rain-drenched gulf coast to the drought-stricken American West. Perhaps if they can do it for oil, they can do it for water. That requires money, government support, and time, but the point is that creative ideas like this alone gain us agency over the problem.
Environmental outreach can learn from these ideas to avoid reinforcing feelings of being unwanted except as warm bodies to get on the right train to salvation or overwhelming people with the magnitude of the problem. With something like climate change, it is easy to feel like everything is hopeless, but that is untrue. It is easy to feel like there is nothing one person can do. But that is manifestly untrue. It is easy to feel like the solutions are too difficult for the ordinary person. That is likewise untrue because the solutions are manifold and some are not as obvious as others. It is easy to feel like the government or billionaires are the only ones with the power to fix things. That is absolutely untrue. They may have unique powers to help or hinder, but those powers do not eliminate the agency of any person to contribute in a meaningful way.
Outreach that simply focuses on consumer compliance — do this, buy that, don’t buy this — will almost certainly fail. That said a little guilt can be good. It can help people do the right thing. A lot of guilt will lead to withdrawal and denial.
Outreach that is sensitive to the overwhelming problems we face and focuses on having good ideas and making contributions rather than compliance will have a much better chance of succeeding.
It also helps to encourage people to stay engaged with the natural world. Research shows that, when people feel disconnected from nature, they can lose the need to protect it. When they spend time outdoors, they feel a need to preserve it.
Anger can also be a good motivator. It is healthy and constructive to say “no!” to destructive practices. Feelings of moral responsibility, concern, sadness and depression over our own actions can be good as well, provided it leads us not to withdraw and deny but to think creatively. For it is in creating, not complying, that we will solve global warming and climate change.
Climate change simply does not have the psychological and emotional characteristics that make it feel scary.
Sweeping statements like. ( We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts)
Just knowing about something has little to do with how scary or not it FEELS, and those feelings matter more than facts.
Do we really need to care how much people care? How much does public concern really matter? A blasé public seems to be a problem, but just how big a problem is it, really?
The effects of climate change will ultimately get destructive as a war (the damage has already begun but it will take hindsight before we fully realize it) but by then it will be far too late.
This is the reason that everyone engaged in combating climate change needs to help raise pressure on governments and businesses.
But the scope and complexity and urgency of what needs to be done are so much greater than anything that public support will ever truly push for. It requires nothing less than a radical restructuring of how the world makes and uses energy.
The evidence of the cost of extreme weather is now everywhere and we don’t know the extent of the climatic catastrophes that are to come will cost. It is however estimated that by 2060 insurance claims will exceed the global gross domestic product.
Instead, our world leaders are as usual creating false realities.
It is therefore no wonder that the rhetoric we are hearing from our world leaders is about enslaving the poor and bankrupting our economies to do climate policy. This is totally fallacious, but the problem remains as is how we will pay, who will pay, and how we can spread the cost fairly.
Frankly barring some global economic meltdown we had better start spending to create a sustainable world.
Nature is fragile and it does not do a gradual change.
There is no known natural effect that can explain the rise in global temperatures.
The urgency of the climate change crisis really can’t be overstated.
Unless action is taken across all levels of society over the next decade, we’re looking at a near-future of droughts, flooding, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
So here again are two suggestions to tackle the above on a fair and transparent base.
With all-climate summits, the question of how to finance the change required (which is going to be in the trillions) is never answered.
Here are two ways of doing this.
The first is to enable all of us to contribute to reversing the problem.
The second is to harness all profit for profit’s sake by introducing a world aid commission on all economic activities that are making a profit for profit’s sake.
Both create a perpetual fund SO THAT THE UNITED NATIONS does not have to beg.
There is around 160 Lottery in the world offering billions in prizes. They offer a one-off chance with a lottery ticket to win with the ticket becoming a worthless sheet of toilet paper after the draw, raising billions in revenue.
So what is there to stop the United Nations from creating and underwriting its own World Green Bonds, with guaranteed interest and lotto-style cash prizes drawn every month.
A new Green asset class in global capital markets could emerge.
(A government bond is a type of debt-based investment, where you loan money to a government in return for an agreed rate of interest. This makes bonds a fixed-income asset. Once the bond expires, you’ll get back to your original investment.)
To compete with the Lotto.
The UN Green Bonds could be issued with 8 years of tenure and 5 years of lock-in. (Premature redemption requests will not be allowed)
The bond can be bought by acquiring coupons that add up to a bond.
These coupons can be purchased both online and offline at the same price as a lotto ticket.
On reaching one hundred coupons an investor gets an acknowledged receipt of the purchase and a bond. Then he receives the soft copy of the certificate to his/ her registered email address, and a few days later a certificate bond gets issued.
This Certified Bond is then eligible to enter the yearly draw to win 20 million.
The coupon is dated and numbered entering a Cash prize monthly or weekly draw like the lotto.
Like the Lotto, if the prize is not won it rolls over to the next draw with an additional 20 million.
The owner submits the certified bond online with his chosen lotto numbers.
If the investor does not win the additional value from holding the green asset bond derives from enhanced transparency and association with a green project financed by the bond.
The role of the UN would be to the underwriter.
Surety for bonds issues could be not just governments. Digital monopolies like Facebook, Net Flick, Apple, Microsoft, Drug Companies, etc. could be the financial Surety anchors.
To evaluate financial risks, rates, and rules for a loan or investment for a project that meets certain pre-established environmental criteria.
As world economies feel the negative effects of the pandemic the threat of inflation is gathering pace the Green conversion is also gathering pace.
Europe has fostered an engaged and active green bond market so why not for the whole world.
This idea would let all of us invest digital, or not in the future while earning a fixed interest from that investment and if lucky win a cash prize.
The second suggestion is a world aid commission of 0.05% on all Sovergnity Fund acquisitions, on all currency transactions over 50,000$, on all algorithms that produce profit for profit’s sake, and on all lottos.
The demands of life can often cause us to focus on things that don’t really matter. Take profit-seeking algorithms for example.
Hopefully, we can get more people to wake up while there is still time because the clock is ticking for humanity and for our planet as a whole and it will be rightly scary for the next generation who will be in the midst of it.
All human comments are appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.