10 January 2013

The social and psychological taboo on climate change

Claire Browning has written a post Nemesis Narcissus.

It’s about how climate change - embarrassing, frightening, disempowering - has become almost a social taboo. People are (allegedly) aware, (reputedly) concerned - but not acting, and a bit frightened even to talk about it. We’re taking refuge in denial.

For Claire Browning, the substance of this denial is the unwillingness to let go of lifestyle.

We don’t want to give it up - the personal lifestyles, the geopolitics - to have to admit that, in some respects, our definition of progress was wrong; that it was a treadmill, and a trap. Easier roads lie in denial, and trust, and hope.

Claire refers us to The id and the eco. which says

"Thinking about climate change makes people feel helpless and anxious – but that’s why we must talk about it openly".

This is an article by Rosemary Randall, a British psychologist who has looked at resistance to the disturbing message of climate change.

Randall writes;

Climate change is a disturbing subject that casts a shadow across ordinary life...what most people don’t admit — thinking about climate change is upsetting and brings to the surface an internal conflict about how to respond.

According to Randall, the common psychological response is defensive;

In dealing with climate change, we are in the terrain that psychoanalysis calls resistance or defence — the ability to defend ourselves from too much mental and emotional pain. Although each statement carries an element of truth, its primary purpose is protective: a rationalisation for inaction. These are subtler forms of denial than those found among outright climate sceptics or deniers. The reality of climate change is acknowledged but its significance is discounted, and the person involved avoids taking any responsibility for the issue.

Randall concludes with a call for a Churchillian 'fight them on the beaches' level of inspiration. Claire Browning invokes a previous post of hers on iconic Kiwi story-telling knocking the bugger off.

Both Randall and Browning are worth a read. May 2013 be a year where humanity overcomes it's resistance to taking action on climate change.

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