Climate change isn’t something new. It’s been on our radar for the past 35 years. So, what’s been holding us back from making the changes we need to protect the Earth? Let’s take a look at eight possible things that might be holding us back.
1) Fear and confusion
There’s a lot of information and misinformation out there about what the issue is and what we do or don’t need to be doing. People are scared that if we stop using dirty energy like oil and gas, we’ll go back to the stone ages and our quality of life will change. People are scared to lose their livelihoods in farming and mining. People are scared for what change will mean for their country’s economy.
And with all that information out there, people struggle to agree on what the real issue is. Below are some comments from climate change activists when I shared my post on cows.
It’s hard to agree on what actions we need to take when a lot of people’s lives rely on industries that are damaging to the environment. It’s easy to use another industry, practice, or country as a defence for why you don’t need to do anything in your life or country, which brings me to the next point…
2) We’re fighting each other instead of the cause
You don’t have to look far inside climate change activist groups to see people arguing over whose way to deal with climate change is more important. It seems that people keep seeing it as an either/or, rather than multiple things that we can all work on. Here’s some examples of comments on my posts about climate change that illustrate this point:
When groups get distracted fighting within themselves, it’s really hard for them to come together and focus on the common cause. A lot of us are losing sight of the fact that we all have the same objective, and we’re failing the earth and ourselves by fighting each other instead of educating those who need it.
3) It’s a slow moving threat
It’s hard for us to see something as a threat when it isn’t directly impacting us right now. We’re wired to have a fight, flight or freeze response to dangerous things, such as a bear or a person with a gun. But when we’re inside our air-conditioned buildings hearing things about the temperature and sea leavels rising, it’s hard for us to realise the consequences when they don’t seem real for us in our lives right in this moment of time.
Climate change is something that’s happening gradually. But the problem with us not addressing the threat today is that we risk only realizing the damage we’ve done at a point where it’s too late to fix it.
Today, your enemy is an army of delayers who resist change and refuse to admit that it has been a devastating mistake to allow damaging the environment in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘development.’ It created profits and wealth to the first generations doing it, but it shattered the econological balance on the planet, and as it now increasingly is becoming clear, it has created a huge bill to be paid by the generations coming after them.FridaysforFuture briefing paper
4) Learned helplessness: Climate change helplessness
Learned helplessness is a psychological phenomenon that occurss when an individual believes they have no control over a situation and therefore stops trying. This was first observed by a mean old researcher called Martin Seligman who shocked dogs randomly and found that after a while, the dogs just lay down and took the shocks, even when they could easily escape.
Here’s my more humane way of explaining learned helplessness to you. You sometimes see dogs that have a lead connected to them, but not connected to anything on the other end, but the dog doesn’t try to go anywhere because it thinks it can’t.
Well, apparently us humans are now very prone to experiencing a version of this called climate change helplessness. Studies have found that people who believe climate change is massive, terrifying and out of their control, are a lot more likely to lie down and let climate change happen. Even worse, the people in the study who were made aware of the climate crisis, but felt they couldn’t do anything about it actually reported using more energy afterwards.
What do we learn from this? The scare tactic approach to climate change will not work, and can actually backfire if it makes people feel scared and overwhelmed. It’s important to educate people on just how much of an impact they can make as an individual.
If you doubt that you can make a change, look at Greta Thunberg, the girl with Asperger’s who started striking on her own every Friday for the climate. Now, one year later, she has 7 million people joining the movement every Friday. And in cities where large scale strikes are not allowed, individuals are bravely doing it alone. Know that you can make a difference wherever you are. And the one person standing up about it in Russia and Hong Kong is just as important as the millions doing it elsewhere. It’s inspirational for the rest of us.
5) Global inequities: The difference between rich and poor
Those of us who live more developed countries can afford to make the switch to clean energy, to insulate our houses, to change our diets and ways of living. However, the rest of the world is still strugging because they haven’t been able to build the necessary infrastructure and get the benefits we have given ourselves by burning fossil fuels.
I have to throw in some stats to show you what I’m talking about here. 736 million people (8.6% of the world) live in extreme poverty – meaning they can’t afford the minimum food and shelter necessary. The universal standard for extreme poverty is someone living on less than $1.90 per day. And nearly half the world lives on less than $5.50 per day. Take a look at a world poverty clock here to get some idea of what’s going on.
That are a lot of people who are simply struggling to meet their basic needs each day. So, how can we expect them to care about something like the environment? How can we expect them to even know about the environment if they don’t get the chance to learn how to read? How can we even begin to educate them when they don’t have access to education? What changes can they possibly make for the environment when they’re working all day and not even earning enough to pay for a roof over their head?
This is why climate change is such a complex issue and requires our attention on multiple fronts: including climate justice.
6) It’s normal to live contradictory lives
Even though we might be aware that flying, for example, results in 10,000 human deaths a year due to emissions, we see it as a normal thing to do. It’s really difficult when you’ve been told that something you’ve done your whole life and never given a second thought to is suddenly bad and you need to stop doing it.
If we’re honest, we’re all hypocrites, and we’re okay with it. You’ll see people who eat super healthy food, but smoke cigarettes. People who exercise like crazy, but then drink sugary drinks. Even us having dogs and cats as pets, but being okay with eating cows and pigs is hypocritical because they’re all animals just the same. And surely any other animal would be just as or more loving than a cat…
We’re very good at separating different parts of our lives and actions. This makes it really hard for people to see the real impact of what they’re doing, which is probably the only way a lot of us can live with ourselves. If we truly thought every day about where a lot of our food and items come from, we’d probably find it hard to live with ourselves. But that’s what we need to think about if we’re going to bring about climate justice. Unfortunately, we humans naturally avoid things we don’t like. And we don’t like thinking that something we’re doing might be bad, so we just put it in the ignore box in our brain and get on with our day.
7) Resistance to change
It’s not just that we have a hard time giving up what’s normal to us, it’s also that we don’t want to. Us humans hate change. We’re creatures of habit. And even when we want to change, we still have a hard time doing it if we don’t REALLY, REALLY want to change.
It’s easy to put off change and say, “I’ll start tomorrow,” or, “I’ll just ease into it gradually.” But therein lies the problem because by putting it off, we’re telling ourselves that the behaviour we want to change is still actually okay. And then it’s really hard for us to view it as a bad thing because it’s still a part of our identity.
For example, let’s take sugar. None of us need sugar, it’s a luxury. But we want it. We know it’s bad for us, but we still don’t stop eating it. We just tell ourselves, “I’ll just cut down a bit.” And so, sugar is still a part of our lives. We don’t want to give it up completely because we still want to have the option to eat that delicious looking donut, or that refreshing ice cream on a hot day. So, we keep the sugar door open. But we still manage to feel proud of ourselves because even though we eat sugar every day, we only put one teaspoon of sugar in our coffee instead of two. Great. And then we go reward ourselves with some donuts. Because we really don’t want to give up sugar.
8) Distance: I can’t see it, therefore it doesn’t exist
As we’re advancing with technology and careers, a lot of us live in concrete jungles, AKA cities. We don’t have to go out and hunt for our meat. We don’t have to see a mother cow being separated from her baby so we can get milk. We don’t see the bad working conditions and long hours required to get our food and clothing to us.
This makes it very easy for us to ignore these issues and think we’re not part of the problem. We’re very good at seeing only what we want to see and distancing ourselves from everything else.
There’s many reasons why we as individuals and societies choose to ignore the issue of climate change. There are both internal and external barriers that get in our way. Being aware of these things is a start because knowledge is power. And when we know our weaknesses, we have the power to change them!