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Copenhagen Won't Be Enough -- Only a 'Human Movement' Can Save Civilization from the Climate Crisis

A strange cloud envelops human civilization as its leaders fail to take the measures to protect it in Copenhagen that they themselves endorsed just five months ago.

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Accepting the climate threat

The biological mode of immortality is epitomized by family continuity. Living on through one's sons and daughters and their sons and daughters has been the most fundamental and universal of all modes.
--Robert Jay Lifton, The Broken Connection

While corporate and conservative propaganda has played a major role in encouraging societal denial of the human climate crisis, the psychological roots of our cloud of unknowing lie far deeper.

Ernest Becker, Irvin Yalom and terror management theory social psychologists have explained how denial of death lies at the root of such societal issues as the human climate crisis. Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett's new book Beyond Death Anxiety: Achieving Life-Affirming Death Awareness is perhaps the fullest description to date of how unconscious death anxiety negatively affects our day-to-day child rearing, relationships, sexuality, work and feelings about ourselves. But they also discuss an alternative: a life-affirming death awareness which can not only enrich individual lives but save civilization.

For though unconscious denial of death can kill, as Wiesel described, consciously facing it can spur us to action and more life. Is this not in fact what happens in everyday life? Don't most of us, when consciously facing a life-threatening situation, react by seeking life? The key step is accepting that we face a threat.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has given perhaps the best-known description of the psychological process that will be required for humanity to save its civilization. For her famous five-stage paradigm applies to serious illnesses that can be cured as well as those that cannot. In the case of the former--such as the human climate crisis--the final stage involves acceptance of the treatment needed to live. America today is exhibiting all five of these stages:

Denial, as dozens of who have never studied climate science deny the research of those who have, and as many Americans recognize the problem but recently ranked it 20th among their 20 top voting concerns.

Anger, as when Rush Limbaugh viciously "jokes" that The New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin should kill himself for observing that population growth increases global warming, or when uninformed skeptics savagely attack those who accept the climate scientists' findings.

Bargaining, as when the United States sets inadequate "targets" rather than legally agreeing to cut emissions to science-recommended levels at Copenhagen; or Freakonomics author Steven Levitt discusses "geoengineering" proposals--e.g., to pump sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere--which most scientists consider as dangerous as climate change.

Depression, perhaps our dominant response. The minor steps taken so far arise from a despairing belief that human beings cannot be roused to save themselves.

Acceptance, as tens of thousands of environmentalists, young people and aware adults around the globe courageously push for actions to save us.

A "human movement" would seek to vastly expand the latter's numbers by helping people--as patiently and understandingly as possible--realize that denial, anger, bargaining and depression are unacceptable if we want our children to have the lives we wish for them.

There is every reason to believe that most of us will choose life once the life-and-death stakes are brought to our consciousness. After all, we choose life every day.

Humanity is today fighting against the millennia-long material development that has produced our human climate crisis. But it has as an ally an equally strong internal dynamic: the profound and powerful drive that has seen billions of people over the millennia decide, one by one, to give birth to their young, nurture and raise them, and hope to live on through them.

 
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