There is considerable scientific consensus regarding global warming, yet most of us (myself included) look the other way. Why is this?
Mary Pipher’s newest book, The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, and Tara Brach's recent podcast, Loving Life, Loving Earth, offer some reasons.
We have too many other things to worry about. We're bombarded with messages about crime, the economy, and cancer, to name a few. The human brain can handle only so many competing concerns. When doing research for her book, Pipher asked many people what they thought about global climate change. One woman, a bright and thoughtful librarian, said, "It's a mid-level worry." As a top-notch worrier myself, I can relate. I'm much more likely to worry about a sick family member or a friend who just lost her job than global warming.
We focus on immediate problems. Our brains are naturally wired to scan for danger, with a preference to focus on problems that need to be fixed right away. To use my example from above, it's easier to bring a meal to a sick person than to know what to do to fix the environment. Pipher writes," The human race is more likely to solve a problem that requires a hammer if we have a hammer at hand. For global environmental problems, we don't have a hammer."
We’re in a trance. Brach also believes that we’re often living in a “trance” in which we deny our true nature. We feel separate, inadequate, and unworthy. To defend against these feelings, we look outside ourselves for something to dull the pain. And our culture is all to happy to help. Buy more. Eat more. Get a bigger house, a bigger car… All of this over-consumption provides us a short-term fix (just like a drug) but causes long-term damage to our planet.
We have a knowledge deficit. Despite the fact that scientists have tried to educate Americans about our environmental chaos for a long time, it doesn't seem to be sinking in. Pipher cites a report From May 2011* that found 25% of Americans continue to be dismissive and doubtful about the reality of global climate change.
We engage in faulty thinking. Thoughts such as, “The things I could do won’t really make a difference.”…or, “The earth is too far gone already; why bother?” are common but dangerous, leading to despair and hopelessness.
So, what’s can we do? Below are ideas from both Pipher and Brach.
Tara Brach is a psychologist and author of the book Radical Acceptance (2003) and True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart (Bantam, 2013).
* Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications, called, “Global Warming’s Six Americas in May 2011
I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. My husband Greg and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.