It is easy to scoff at climate change “deniers”—people who refuse to believe the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are causing global warming and its catastrophic consequences, including intensified drought, flooding and severe weather. We might feel smug knowing we respect science, unlike those ridiculous deniers.
Not so fast. Is it possible to acknowledge that climate change is real while still being in denial about the gravity of the situation? Check out this list. You may recognize yourself.
1) You think climate change is bad, but not that bad.
Do you think climate change is mostly damaging “the environment” and Arctic wildlife? Do you view climate change as a problem for “our grandchildren?” Do you feel badly for people in distant countries who will be hurt by climate change, but unconcerned about yourself and your community? Do you consider climate change just one among many problems in the world today?
If so, you could be vastly underestimating the scope and urgency of the threat. Climatologist and NASA scientist James Hansen describes the climate crisis in the starkest terms:
“Planet Earth, creation, the world in which civilization developed, the world with climate patterns that we know and stable shorelines, is in imminent peril. The urgency of the situation crystallized only in the past few years…The startling conclusion is that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet, but also the survival of humanity itself — and the timetable is shorter than we thought.”
Climate change threatens the lives of billions of people, as well as the collapse of civilization, democracy, and the rule of law. Climate change is already causingsevere weather, droughts, floods, food shortages, the spread of tropical diseases and invasive species, and mass migrations of people. Climate change is the defining problem of our time.
2) You don’t have an emotional reaction to climate change.
Perhaps you know all this. Maybe you are well aware of the planetary emergency we are facing. But does this knowledge stay in your head, not your heart?
Keeping your knowledge of climate change purely intellectual is a type of denial. The truth is recognized, but the feelings that should accompany this knowledge--namely, terror, grief, anger and regret--are not in awareness.
When I am trying to help people get in touch with their emotions about climate change, I remind them that “Climate change is unfolding in your life.” Climate change is happening to you, to me, and everyone we know. You are intimately involved in it. You should know it in your gut and in your heart--not just in your head.
3) You aren’t getting political.
You recycle. You drive a hybrid. You turn off your lights when you leave a room. Haven’t you done your part?
Unfortunately, you haven’t. Individual actions to reduce emissions cannot possibly solve this immense, global problem. We need a social movement to wake Americans up to the immanent threat we are facing. Organizations such as 350.org and Citizens Climate Lobby and the nascent group The Climate Mobilization are attempting to build that movement.
There is a Chinese proverb: To know and not act is not to know. The greatest catastrophe in history is happening on our watch. We can either be bystanders and passive victims, letting climate change happen to us or we can actively fight for what we hold dear. We must employ our individual skills, talents, relationships, and resources to fight climate change. We must abandon denial and rise to the challenge of our time, together.
Margaret Klein is a therapist turned advocate. She is the founder of The Climate Mobilization, a psychologically based social movement strategy and political platform, and the author of The Climate Psychologist. She will receive her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Adelphi University and is currently completing a Psychology Internship at The William Alanson White Institute.