Why are humans so reluctant to accept climate change?
“It's not like I don't care about the climate.” Bob asserted
“Dude, your carbon footprint on wren.co is twice that of an average UK citizen.”
The climate is changing and it's changing really fast. Scientists have been telling us this for a long and if we don't stop climate change then we will eventually reach doomsday but why is it that humans are so passive about it? Are we getting something wrong? Why is it that even after knowing the consequences, we don't bring about any change in our behaviour?
The IPCC states that the global average temperature might rise up by 1.5 degrees celsius by 2030 and this could cause catastrophe. Now you might think what's such a big deal with 1.5 degrees celsius? Well, Earth is a complicated system, no different than anyone’s body. When our body's temperature rises even by 1-degree Celsius, we start to think we are developing a fever. The planet is also very thermally sensitive.
But still, many people continue to think of climate change as a distant problem. They think that its impacts won't be felt for a generation or more. Many also think that this problem only concerns polar bears, penguins and fish. Why do we seem to underestimate the gravity of this problem?
It is not like climate change is the first scary climate issue. Remember the ozone layer? Even though how complex and fatal it sounded in the ‘80s, we were able to do something about it.
People got this very simple image of a protective layer around the Earth shielding us from ultraviolet light and a point which was signified was the fact that if we let the UV rays reach Earth then it will potentially cause skin cancer, snow blindness and many other fatal diseases. A direct and fatal consequence caught the attention of millions of people. And then they came up with this fabulous term, the “ozone hole.”
A terrible problem but a great term.
People also got a solid image of what caused this problem. We had been using chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, in a range of products, like aerosol spray cans. Then scientists discovered that CFCs were actually digging a hole in the atmospheric ozone. People looked at their hairspray and said, “Do I want to jeopardize the planet because I want my hair to hold in place? God NO!”
Thus the sales of hairspray and other products containing CFCs dropped quite dramatically. People actually listened to scientists and took action and now scientists predict that the ozone layer will be healed completely by 2060. So why are humans not willing to accept climate change?
One of the major reasons is that the source is invisible. At the moment, there is CO2 gushing out of exhaust-pipe, buildings, factory chimneys but we can't see it. The fundamental source of this problem is more or less invisible to most of us. I mean, if CO2, methane or other greenhouse gases were black, we would have dealt with this issue a long time ago.
The consequences of climate change are also not as direct as skin cancer. When we talk about the consequences of climate change, we generally think about rising sea levels, melting glaciers, loss of wildlife and we think that it does not directly affect us unlike skin cancer did in the ozone hole problem and thus we end up not taking it seriously.
So should scientists be concerned that humans are not taking this problem seriously? Well, yeah. If we don’t support scientists then it is impossible to stop climate change.
But even after numerous awareness campaigns, many people are still not taking this problem seriously. So maybe the way scientists are trying to get across their ideas is flawed. This doom and gloom messaging is not working. The more we talk about polar bears, human extinction and marine life, the more we are pushing away humans from really doing anything.
“The climate is changing and if we don't do something then we are all going to die.”
“Okay, but for god’s sake, WHAT ‘SOMETHING’ DO WE HAVE TO DO?!.”
We are used to hearing about climate change in an extremely gloomy tone described in much the same way as Winter in Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming, it's coming and there's nothing we can do to stop it, it's definitely coming, and when it gets here it's going to be really ba… oh, never mind, too late.
It's something psychologists have known about for ages. The common notion is that if you present the deadly consequences of a certain act then it should prevent people from actually carrying it out but that's not always the case. Humans tend to become passive when encountered with fear and guilt. Fear and guilt are not conducive to engagement. We try to shift our thoughts to things less important than stressing about something which could have a devastating effect.
Solutions to climate change are rarely discussed, because, well, it's a very complex problem. But because we don't discuss solutions, we subconsciously tend to think that a solution does not even exist. So scientists and activists need to dial down the warning and talk about the solution more.
We need a solution to these issues. Humans not accepting climate change can be really challenging to scientists and policymakers. It will be near to impossible to bring about a visible change if we don’t cooperate. We need to change the way we spread awareness and we need to make the impacts of wastage of electricity and fuel more visible. We can simply do this by issuing a report weekly to families and individuals on how their actions are affecting the climate. Many companies have started using this approach and families who are sent these reports have seen a drop in their electricity usage by almost 35%. So there is still hope and if we cooperate with scientists and understand this problem, we can protect our home, once again.