Freelance journalist Beth Gardiner had an editorial called We’re All Climate Change Idiotsin the New York TimesSunday Review on July 21, 2012. There are valuable insights in it, though they are not the ones Beth had in mind when she wrote it.
Climate change is staring us in the face. The science is clear, and the need to reduce planet-warming emissions has grown urgent. So why, collectively, are we doing so little about it?
Yes, that’s the Big Question.
Yes, there are political and economic barriers, as well as some strong ideological opposition, to going green.
As you’ll see shortly, Beth does not explicitly refer to the economic barriers to “going green” again. That’s a glaring omission, dontcha think?
But researchers in the burgeoning field of climate psychology have identified another obstacle, one rooted in the very ways our brains work. The mental habits that help us navigate the local, practical demands of day-to-day life, they say, make it difficult to engage with the more abstract, global dangers posed by climate change.
\Robert Gifford, a psychologist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who studies the behavioral barriers to combating climate change, calls these habits of mind “dragons of inaction.”
• We have trouble imagining a future drastically different from the present. We block out complex problems that lack simple solutions.
• We dislike delayed benefits and so are reluctant to sacrifice today for future gains.
• And we find it harder to confront problems that creep up on us than emergencies that hit quickly.
“You almost couldn’t design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Next we get an invaluable insight into opinions about climate change. This is where Beth starts to go off the rails.