IMAGE: Ma Ti — Unsplash
For some time now, I’ve been trying to understand why so few us grasp the urgency of the climate emergency: human reasoning seems genetically encoded to see only the short, which means that most people, even those with a reasonable level of intelligence, are in denial.
In many cases, this denial is consciously nurtured by companies that benefit from maintaining the status quo, even if it makes no economic sense. The recent US Congressional investigation showing that the oil majors have spent decades, and millions, spreading disinformation so as to maintain their profits is proof of this, although most people will simply shrug their shoulders: yes, we know… and? Will anything happen? Are we going to see CEOs going to jail, multi-billion fines or any other consequences for this criminal behavior? The answer is no. Many years later, millions of people are still parroting the twisted arguments of the oil companies, still refusing to act against the greatest threat to the human species in its entire history, and nothing happens.
In other cases, denialism arises from the feeling that any change we as individuals might try to make will be a drop in a very large ocean. The figures showing the recent contribution of a country like China to the climate emergency, for example, are also proof that such considerations are not completely unjustified. Faced with such an imbalance, the reaction of many is “since I can’t do anything, I won’t make any sacrifices, and I’ll just stay as I am”.
Others deny reality by believing in stupid conspiracy theories: “there is no climate emergency; it’s just the work of the environmentalist lobby that wants to destroy the oil industry and fill the planet with windmills and solar panels, reducing us to poverty and slavery”. In its infinite variations, usually originating on the far right of the political spectrum, conspiracies underpin most opposition to fighting the climate emergency.
The problem is that doing nothing is no longer an option. We are in an emergency, and we have to act accordingly. We know that the climate emergency is producing more and more extreme weather events that are going to affect us all eventually, regardless of where we live.
We have to face up to the fact that sooner or later, climate change means we a natural disaster is going to hit us, meaning we will lose our house, our harvest, or our life. But until then, we’ll keep running our petrol or diesel car, instead of opting for an electric one, because it is more expensive and forces us to stop for half an hour during a four or five hour trip. We refuse to install solar panels, or to force the electric companies to decarbonize, because we don’t understand the savings to be made, or because it means some work on our home, or because we are simply lazy.
And finally, there are those among us who refuse to do anything because they think there is nothing to be done and we might as well eat, drink and be merry, and our children and grandchildren can deal with it. Until of course, younger generations decide to take action, and possibly violent action to try to avert us losing the only planet we have.
In short, we’re living in a fool’s paradise: we know everything, science has shown us perfectly well what is happening, what the process looks like and how we can slow it down or fight it… but we refuse to see, and instead to stay as we are, sliding slowly — or not so slowly anymore — down the slippery slope of disaster. And at this rate, by the time we come to our senses, it really will be too late.
(En español, aquí)