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How Greed, Fear, And Our Own Biases Blind Us To The Reality Of Climate Change

Enviroment

The Climate Science Special Report that the Trump administration released last Friday is straightforward and relentlessly sobering. Scientists from 13 government agencies agree that the long-term global warming trend is “unambiguous” and that human activity is responsible. There is, they tell us, “no convincing alternative explanation.”

Meanwhile, the president whose administration released the report maintains that climate change is a hoax and he and his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, resist efforts to address it.

What’s going on? How is this possible? Short-term economic self-interest (i.e., greed) is the driver for the energy industry, its supporters and their propaganda. But it’s the psychological factors, and the biology in which they’re grounded, that sustain denial. If we’re going to mobilize Americans to address climate change, we first have to understand what they’re thinking and why, and then help them change their minds.

The belief that human activity is not causing global warming is widespread outside of as well as within the White House. And it’s remarkably resistant to evidence. Ninety-seven percent of scientific papers agree that humans are causing climate change, but 30 percent of American adults remain unconvinced.

Many attribute this denial to mistrust of science and the “elites” who are devoted to it. This is, at best, only partially true. A recent Pew survey shows a striking difference between trust in medical (and other scientists) and climate scientists. The vast majority of us still believe in the people who design our heart monitors and keep our planes flying.

Obviously, there are other reasons for climate denial. Fear of its possible apocalyptic consequences certainly encourages denial in all of us. But while most of us face the facts—perhaps with great reluctance—others turn stubbornly away.

Several studies show that such resolute deniers are far more likely to be politically conservative, white and older, and that twice as many are men. Researchers suggest that “social dominance orientation”—a tendency to conform to traditional values and to put faith in beneficial, protective hierarchic structures—predicts climate change denial.

This faith is, of course, molded by energy corporations, the scientists they hire and the politicians they fund. Our current resident, sitting at the top of the political hierarchy, undoubtedly hardens positions.

But this faith is more than a consequence of propaganda or a social construct. There are factors built into human biology that foster denial of climate change and resistance to doing anything about it. If we want to change consciousness and constructively address climate change, we have to take these factors into account.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert and others have pointed out that the human brain has evolved over millions of years to meet or avoid immediate, rather than long-term threats. We are primed to fight a human intruder now, not a natural disaster in some indefinite future. Our brain facilitates anger when we are insulted by another person, but insulates us from taking a distant destruction personally.

A recent Yale survey confirms the observation: A majority of Americans believe that climate change is happening, but only a “small minority” believe it will affect them. And, compounding this denial is our brains, which as Gilbert points out, are designed to react swiftly to dramatic events, but are far less sensitive to gradual changes, like progressively warmer temperatures.

Now, however, in the midst of ongoing environmental catastrophe, all of us—doubters as well as reluctant believers—have the opportunity and good reasons, to overcome our denial. This will be easiest for those who have been directly affected.

Disaster-traumatized people I’ve worked with, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in the northeast after Superstorm Sandy, in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and, now, in Houston and Northern California, are rarely in denial. They appreciate that human factors—including global warming and the sacrifice of natural protections to energy exploitation and of zoning regulation to the greed of developers—killed relatives and friends, and contributed to their collapsed homes and destroyed neighborhoods.

This understanding of causes, as well as consequences, transcends age, race, class and political affiliation, and overrides the temporary restriction of abstract reasoning and judgment that may follow severe trauma. A healthy majority of hurricane-affected Texans, Floridians and Puerto Ricans—and Californians devastated by fires fueled by climate-heated timber and grass—will likely be open to learning and acting on the same lessons.

Those of us who have so far been spared the full destructiveness of climate-related disasters are also neurologically primed for a teaching moment. The absence of direct trauma has left our higher brain functions, like judgment, self-awareness and compassion unimpaired. Meanwhile, we’ve registered emotionally compelling images of damage, destruction and death—water-bloated bodies, homeless children, flooded and crushed homes. Now is the time when all of us may be ready to translate what we have felt and know into action.

Mass and social media have a major role to play in keeping consciousness-affecting images of climate-related destruction alive, and in linking them to scientific evidence. The images will show us that the people suffering look very much like all of us—climate deniers as well as believers, white as well as black and brown, rich and poor alike. Clear presentation of the science will deepen emotional learning. And updates on survivors’ ongoing pain and life-deforming dislocation can provide effective continuing education. Little by little, everyone, including deniers, will get the message that what has happened to others can happen to all of us.

This may be especially important for older people, who in disproportionate numbers deny climate change. They will be reminded that they are far less able to escape natural disasters than younger people, and will, if affected, have far greater difficulty replacing what they’ve lost. The horror stories of residents boiling to death in power-deprived nursing homes need to be recalled and honored, as do the disorienting, destabilizing long-term consequences for older people who have lost their homes and neighborhoods. Groups like the AARP can take the lead in this painful but necessary educational process, and in advocating for climate sparing legislation.

It’s important, also, to continue to memorialize the selfless efforts of neighbors helping neighbors during and after the storms and fires, as well as the stories of distant Americans’ generosity. Seeing compassion in action will maximize activity in the parts of our brains that encourage fellow feeling. As they see and feel how satisfying it is to care for one another, even the most resistant climate deniers may want to join the rest of us in caring for the planet that sustains us all.

Alternet



66 Comments on "How Greed, Fear, And Our Own Biases Blind Us To The Reality Of Climate Change"

  1. peakyeast on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 5:14 pm 

    The climate debate is absolutely worthless – but it is academically interesting. Its worthless because there is nothing we can do about it that wont bring about our demise much faster.

    And we have much more immediate problems. Like habitat destruction, species extinction, resource degradation and … overpopultion.

    And No – I dont subscribe to McFears projection even though he is entertaining.

  2. ________ on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 5:16 pm 

    An Earth with a plentiful co2 ,o2 level and warmth supported megafauna that was ten times more biomasive than modern stratified junk species. That includes you tranny pig apes on this mentally ill website.

  3. MASTERMIND on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 5:18 pm 

    There has been around 2100 peer reviewed scientific papers published since 2012 that conclude global warming is real..And if that isn’t enough to convince the deniers. Nothing ever will.

  4. Davy on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 6:02 pm 

    “MM you shoot the messenger because you don’t like the message. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

    Mad kat, you are hilarious. If an article supports you then you always claim any opposition is “shooting the messenger”. If the article is not in support of your agenda it is propaganda. I have seen you use sites both ways which like denial says wreaks of contradictions. You are a fraud mad kat.

  5. Makati1 on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 6:02 pm 

    Food for thought:

    ““The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays – Propaganda

  6. MASTERMIND on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 6:30 pm 

    Madkat

    That is why I use peer reviewed sources and studies. Not fake news like you. Its always the people who point their fingers at others and accuse others like you…Madkat if you think your fake news from zerohedge and burningplatform and organicprepper. Are as good as my scholarly studies. You need your head examined.

  7. Reilly Shure on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 6:42 pm 

    You speak of what mass media can do but fail to mention what they have not done. It is rare that there is even a mention of climate change in the mass news media. Even after major natural disasters terms like El Niño or extreme weather are more likely to be used. The Climate Science Special Report barely got a 10 second mention on some of the network news coverage. CBS is starting to get better but ABC will hardly say the words ‘climate change’. PBS is no better. Can anyone point to any coverage addressing wind, solar or geothermal advances/remedies? They all seem to have adopted the propaganda that climate change is a political rather than scientific subject and thus too controversial to discuss.

  8. Makati1 on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 10:30 pm 

    Food for thought: “Doug Casey on Why Race Will Break the U.S. Apart, Part II”

    “Justin’s note: Today, Doug and I continue our conversation on why the U.S. could dissolve over time. Doug says the problems are all bubbling to the surface…and when the U.S. eventually breaks apart “it will not be peaceful.” …

    In the late ‘60s and the early ‘70s, hundreds of bombings took place at universities, banks, and all kinds of places. The National Guard was in cities like Detroit during the riots, and they were raking buildings with .50 caliber machine guns. It was wild…. ( I remember well.)

    It’s much worse now. Today, there’s a visceral hatred between the left and the right, between the people that live in the so-called red counties and blue counties.

    You add that to the racial situation. Then throw in the fact that the rich are getting richer at an exponential rate while the middle class is disappearing….

    I’m just afraid that when the U.S. breaks up, which inevitably it will, it may not be peaceful. The existence of the USA—which is now just one of 200 other nation states, no longer anything special—is not part of the cosmic firmament. The original founding ideas of America expressed in the Declaration of Independence have been lost, washed away. The absence of those principles is why I say it’s going to come to a bad end….

    https://www.caseyresearch.com/doug-casey-on-why-race-will-break-the-us-apart-part-ii/

    …There are a lot of problems, and they’re bubbling to the surface. When the economy gets bad, which it will, I think the pot will boil over.” Are YOU prepared?

  9. Makati1 on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 10:37 pm 

    Reilly, perhaps it is that their sponsors are companies that would lose $$$$ if climate change was made real to the public and they understood what is causing it? What if the serfs discovered that the big oil companies were covering up the fact that their product kills and will eventually cause the human species to go extinct before their grand kids die? And those same serfs start selling their oil stocks? What would happen?

    Who pays for MSM? Answer: The corporations that run the US these days, not the local store ads or the newspapers purchased by the public as in the old days. Money and greed runs the US and most of the world, not politics or ‘democracy’.

  10. MASTERMIND on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 11:35 pm 

    Reilly

    Madkat is right on this one. Its all about the massive amount of oil and gas advertising. The same is true about the drug companies. Notice almost no stories are written blaming them for the overdose crisis. Because the average american watches ten drug companies commercials on teevee. Every day.

  11. jh wyoming on Sat, 25th Nov 2017 12:16 am 

    The collective efforts of humankind to address climate change is like different factions of Hyena causing distractions with each other until the net effect is nothing much changes. It’s like two big fighters cancelling each other out. People are so good at arguing without end they don’t realize the cancelling out of the argument means nothing gets done. It’s like water meets fire and all you get is a tiny bit of steam. Like a wave coming in and a wave going out cancel each other out. The bottom line is the net of our efforts is an exercise in futility.

    I always thought people were capable of great things, but apparently not in all cases like climate change. Yet people were able to come together and form a solution to CFC’s. How this is different I’m not sure.

  12. Makati1 on Sat, 25th Nov 2017 12:22 am 

    jh, maybe because there was an acceptable substitute that did not eat into the corporate profits? Real efforts against climate change would end the Western way of life. Everything would have to go that was not a real necessity. That includes about 95% of everything in the malls. Personal cars, most electronics, etc. Most of the serfs are not going to sacrifice until they are the ones on the street and then it will be too late. That is my thoughts on the climate change subject.

  13. Cloggie on Sat, 25th Nov 2017 3:43 am 

    From makati’s link:

    https://www.caseyresearch.com/doug-casey-on-why-race-will-break-the-us-apart-part-ii/

    Now, people from all kinds of alien places are being imported by the hundreds of thousands by NGOs; they then go on welfare in enclaves in different places around the country. This is unlikely to end well. The U.S. is no longer a country.

    THIS is indeed what is going to happen between next month and ten years max [*]: the break-up of the US over the question what sort of country America should be in the first place: a European majority country (what the Right/Trump voters want) or a completely ethnically/religious mixed communist country (what the Left, lead by the US (((deep state))) wants).

    Folks in Eurasia (Europe, Russia and China) can simply lean back and wait until the country auto-destroys. Europe should still pay a little attention though that America won’t push Europe into a war with Russia (small chance, but still), for instance over Ukraine/Crimea.

    https://www.amazon.com/Suicide-Superpower-Will-America-Survive/dp/0312579977/ref=sr_1_sc_1

    America is a unique country in that it is not a real country like Russia, China, Japan, Spain, Ireland, etc. Real countries have a single/dominant religion and ethnicity for hundreds if not thousands of years. If not, it is not a country but a ticking time bomb of competing ethnic-religious groups.

    Enter America.

    There is nothing wrong with putting solar panels on your roof in an effort to help “fighting climate change”, as long as you are prepared for the collapse that comes first: The Break. Moving to Red State rural areas should be of a higher priority than panels or a vegetable garden.

    James Howard Kunstler doesn’t recommend Missouri as a survival haven for nothing, where the Washington/empire-lovers and “racism!”-shouters a la Davy are in the vast minority. But he can be sent packing to Trans-Appalachia, provided he didn’t flee to Italy first, which is more likely.

    [*] – the onset of The Break will probably happen shortly after Trump leaves the White House, which can happen any time between next month or the end of his second term, early 2025, provided he has enough “stamina”.

  14. Davy on Sat, 25th Nov 2017 5:20 am 

    “…There are a lot of problems, and they’re bubbling to the surface. When the economy gets bad, which it will, I think the pot will boil over.” Are YOU prepared?”

    Mad Kat, the race issues is a localized issue. There are a handful of problems areas. The whole country is not bubbling. You are an extremist anti-American exaggerating the problems. BTW, for all your friends who think Zero Hedge is disinformation, you got the article off Zero Hedge didn’t you?
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-11-24/doug-casey-why-race-will-break-america-apart-part-ii

  15. Davy on Sat, 25th Nov 2017 6:14 am 

    Do we really think we can do anything without draconian steps immediately to save us from climate change? We are talking the reality of draconian efforts that will ruin the economy and actually will be the equivalent of condemning many people to shorter more painful lives. IMA, many will die in an economy that will decline. This is the problem with fake green techno optimists. They don’t connect the economic side of the equation. Economies decline and declining economies mean less production to feed and support people. A transition needed means a disrupted globalism. Denying that is the basis of fake green techno optimistic denial. The fake green techno optimist claim we can have our cake and eat it by their policies. They believe we can go renewable and techno efficient and avoid pain and economic decline. In fact many hype economic growth results from green growth which I find hilarious. It is clear economic growth is the problem.

    This is the disconnect and the reason nothing much will be done. We will build some more solar, wind, EV’s, some storage systems because it is getting reasonably competitive at its current penetration in certain locations. The problem is going beyond an advanced penetration that allows fossil fuels to be eliminated in widespread applications. IOW’s the key to this discussion is “scale”. We are nowhere near that “break out” except in small locations that still are really fossil fuel reliant because their support systems are fossil fuel reliant. Denmark is an example. Denmark cannot survive on its own as-is. If we could easily leave fossil fuels we would. The problem is it is not easy and not even proven. There are people here who claim the problems with a renewable transition are primarily a fossil fuel conspiracy but come on if we had real alternatives they would be wiped away these impediments.

    The problem is bigger than just the physics of energy. This civilizational problem is about the economic realities of phasing out fossil fuels as much as the technology and engineering. The steps that would be needed to leave fossil fuels are likely beyond our economic capacity. We currently are struggling to pay for what we have now so get a grip. How are we going to afford a brand new civilization? How many poor people do you see with EV’s and panels on their houses? Why because they are expensive. Many can’t even afford to pay their current bills. This transition issue is beyond energy too because consumerism is the problem. Our poor behaviors and lifestyles are the problem too. Mass air and car travel for discretionary enjoyments are not on the menu of steps to address climate change as one example of many. This whole argument comes down to an effort needed that is likely beyond our capabilities.

    This is the predicament level of advancement of leaving fossil fuels and reducing carbon. This is the tip of the spear we are likely not going to reach it globally. Maybe in isolated locations but this will not matter for the planetary system. This level I feel we are unable to reach. We are not that great a people. This is greater than going to the moon or mars and greater than the atom bomb. The level we can reach is the one that leaves this denial and the traditional denial of status quo’ers who could give a shit about green. This level is below the advanced level and it is the mitigation acknowledgment level. It is also the end game level. This level acknowledges we are going to decline and decay. It is reality based, sober, and crisis proactive. At this level we can mitigate and prepare for a climate disturbed world. We can stop malinvesting in beachfront settlements as one example of many. We can stop building in fire prone areas. We can prepare our food system for high temps, droughts and floods that will disrupt many of our chief industrial agriculture food growing regions. We could localize and go seasonal as a way to reduce our impacts and be better prepared.

    Yet, even this will have economic consequences so even these changes will have to consider economic costs. Changing the current global paradigm is not without consequences. Just wait until we have another depression and see how bad it gets with way too many people. The changes even to mitigate climate change and declining energy quality are deflationary and point to dropping economic activity. The last great depression we had 2BIL people and struggled to manage just wait until 7BIL people are forced into a lot less food and goods.

    I am all for us building out as much renewables and working on EV strategies as economic. Why, because these strategies will contribute to resilience in many applications. Many discount peak oil but it is alive and well and its dynamics are there stewing and just waiting to cause havoc. The issues of leaving fossil fuels is another peak oil dynamic in my opinion. Why, because you just don’t turn your back on a global fossil fuel complex that is foundational. To leave fossil fuels has a cost too. Sure we have plenty of hydrocarbons but that is where that optimistic statement ends. We don’t have the economy to use just any hydrocarbon. This means any mitigation effort is also peak oil dynamics challenged. We only have so much time. The CO2 clock is ticking too. Techno optimist want you to believe we have the time and the economy but this appears not to be true. We are climate challenged and this is deeper than the tech. It is also about behaviors and the systematic side of transition and maintaining the status quo.

  16. Shortend on Sat, 25th Nov 2017 8:21 am 

    The boundaries of our planet
    In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day — the date when humanity spent Earth’s resource budget to live sustainably for the year — fell on August 2. In 1987, it landed on December 9. Today, we need 1.7 planets to meet our consumption demands — and that number could rise to two planets by 2030.
    Unless we get that growth under control, not only will we be facing an “ecosystem collapse” due to the loss of species and conversion of land for industry and agriculture, we won’t be able to stop global warming, according to some economists.
    Read more: Are international pledges bold enough to stop global warming?
    “The Paris commitments are unlikely to be met if we continue with growth of the economy,” said Philip Lawn, a senior lecturer in environmental economics at Flinders University in Australia. Solving the climate crisis and continuing with economic business as usual are “incompatible” and “delusional,” he added

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