Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 6

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of healthy living.

These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome.

One more post to go to complete this series — it has seemed long, but I believe the ideas to be important. The next post, on the final chapter of the book, will summarize my thoughts as well.

Chapter 38. Intimations of mortality. Why the future goes dark. We all know we are going to die, and we used to be able to cope with the thought that our life was contributing to something larger that would survive this. Now even that has been taken away from us. [Such losses overwhelm us.]

One of the destructive aspects of scientific materialism. Human beings respond to emotional narrative — the glory of the material-based cosmos thrills us with its complexity, but does not provide a sense of purpose. This is one of the reasons I ascribe to panpsychism (philosophically) and panentheism (spiritually) — they offer me greater depth of awe.

Chapter 39. From the head to the heart. The phony division between science and religion. Conviction is a condition of strongly held opinion, reached through a personal evaluation of the evidence. We know what needs to be done, and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done. It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and an even longer journey from the heart to the hands.

Both science and spirituality seek to honor the cosmos, and are not opposed (although they have been interpreted as such) — the historic division occurred largely because of power politics of the 13th century, sustained since by the self-righteous struggles of both ends of the spectrum. We need a narrative that includes both, but most importantly we need to stop arguing details when we do not recognize the centrality of our ignorance. Then perhaps we could treat the world, this planet and its biosphere, with the respect it deserves.

Chapter 40. Climate conviction. What the green team can learn from the God squad. Climate change appears to be hopeless because people will never be prepared to make a sacrifice based on rational calculation, but this is not the case with religions, which contain sacred values that are so fundamental that they are entirely nonnegotiable. In religion, the reward for belief comes from belonging to a community of believers, and the cost of disbelief is social rejection. The language of climate change is strongly based in guilt and blame, and contains no language of forgiveness. Not surprisingly, people either reject the entire moralistic package, or generate self-forgiveness to ingenious licensing.

What will it take for we humans to know and honor a value system that treats the world appropriately?

Chapter 41. Why we are wired to ignore climate change . . . and why we are wired to take action. The issues of climate change are difficult to challenge; they are complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, and intergenerational. They require certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against uncertain longer-term loss. They challenged deeply held assumptions about comfort, about gases that we have considered benign, and that our familiar environment has become dangerous and uncertain. Cooperation amongst large numbers of rival social groups is required for a distribution of losses, and thereafter the allocation of the greatly diminished shared atmospheric commons. We all contribute moral responsibility together with the powerlessness of individual action. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent, lending itself to multiple interpretations of causality, timing, and impact. This leaves it extremely vulnerable to our innate disposition to select information so that confirms our pre-existing assumptions. These constructed narratives become so culturally specific that people who do not identify with their values can reject the issue they explain. The bottom line is that we do not accept climate change because we wish to avoid the anxiety it generates, and the deep changes it requires.

. . . and why we are wired to take action. Nonetheless, we are capable of dealing with all aspects of climate change. We have a virtually unlimited capacity to accept things that might otherwise prove to be cognitively challenging once they are supported by shared conviction, reinforced by social norms,  and conveyed in narratives that speak to our sacred values. We currently feel isolated and powerless, but could readily be mobilized if our concerns and hopes become validated within a community of shared conviction and purpose.

Unfortunately, it is not yet clear at what point we will fully engage in this process. Readers of this blog will know that I do not believe climate change to be a technological issue — it is an emotional issue reflective of our hubris as a species. We have much maturing to do as such.

To be continued.

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