“It’s helpful to realise that most people are not ready for this conversation. They may never be ready…It’s a mystery as to who can handle the truth of our situation and who runs from it as though their sanity depended on not seeing it.” Catherine Ingram, ‘Facing Extinction’.
Until recently, few people were willing to absorb the implications of accelerating climate change and ecological collapse. There are powerful reasons for this:
- years of misinformation from a media funded by corporate interest.
- misplaced hope that technology would turn the crises around in time.
- ecological and economic ‘illiteracy’ around the issues.
As a consequence, we’ve been disconnected from the true extent of our predicament and wasted 30 years, during which time we could have averted it.
A large part of our disconnect has been attributed to our reluctance to talk about it. For most of us the idea of having a conversation about ‘the greatest existential threat in human history’ is deeply depressing. Inviting people to discuss the consequences of having pushed all of Earth’s systems up to and beyond their safe operating boundaries, leaving us, as a species, out somewhere we’ve never been before, is not easy.
But having this conversation is essential if we’re to have any chance of slowing disruptive climate change and ecological collapse, putting resilient systems in place, helping the next generation adapt to the changes and harnessing legislative power to take action. As the first article in The Conversation, ’An Unpalatable Truth’ states: “Few of us discuss climate change with friends – perhaps that’s why many politicians underestimate concern on the topic…getting the conversation going is the first step to meaningful action.” So what has been going on?
EXCUSES FOR AVOIDING THE CONVERSATION:
Misinformation, misplaced hope, eco-illiteracy and denial have all played their part our disconnection. Fear is another reason for our silence on the topic.
For many people, fear has been the major reason for not talking about climate change and ecological collapse. ‘The Nature Conservancy’ ( www.nature.org ) lists four fear based excuses commonly given for this reluctance. If you want to start The Conversation, but find people reluctant, recognising these excuses may help you reduce the fear and disconnect:
- I don’t know enough.
- I don’t want to talk about scary things.
- I don’t think I can make a difference.
- I don’t want to cause arguments.
1. I don’t know enough:
Few of us will ever know enough about Earth’s systems or the disruption our civilisation is causing them, but it’s never too late to ‘play catch up’. Reading relevant articles about it and about building stronger resilience can be a powerful antidote for this fear. The Local Resilience Project has archived a number of excellent articles in The Conversation.
If people resist this suggestion, remind them of Albert Einstein’s observation that: “No problem can be solved from the same level of thinking that created it.” Everyone of us needs to start thinking differently about how we live on this Earth.
2: I don’t want to talk about scary things:
It’s a human trait to avoid talking about scary things. Even scientists can find it hard to share knowledge of the true extent of disruptive, accelerating climate change. An ABC Lateline program in 2017 interviewed four climate scientists who spoke of ‘the heavy burden of knowledge’ they carry.
The challenges posed by disruptive climate change and ecological collapse are indeed frightening, But fear alone won’t change things unless we allow ourselves to process the fear and let it develop the awareness and the courage we need to deal with it.
On a simpler level, you can help allay people’s fear and make climate change and ecological collapse ‘safer’ topics of conversation by using positive concepts such as the promise of renewable energy to reduce our carbon footprint and create new employment opportunities or the wisdom of acting now in order to avoid even more loss in the future.
3: I don’t think I can make a difference:
When people perceive a problem as being too big for them to do anything about, they shut down and distance themselves from it. So if your attempt to talk about climate change is met with this fear, be empathic but consider sharing Margaret Mead’s observation of the immense, positive social change that took place in the 20th century: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Also let them know that the simple act of talking about climate change with people you care about can make a difference. The more often people hear these conversations, the more socially validated these conversations become. Showing that climate change is important enough for you to talk about it makes it easier for others to talk about it as well.
4: I don’t want to cause arguments:
We live in disruptive times. Conflict is everywhere. So it’s understandable that people might want to avoid having a conversation that could create more conflict. Though this may be an easy short term option, long term it doesn’t build relationship or solve problems.
If the fear of causing arguments, prevents conversation about climate change, be aware that conflict can also open up new possibilities. Though few of us have had training in Conflict Resolution, there are colleges, books and websites where these skills can be learned: http://www.conflictresolutionnetwork.org/. One of the first lessons taught in these courses includes the ancient Chinese saying: “Ah conflict, what an opportunity.”
ARTICLES TO GET YOU STARTED IN THE CONVERSATION
Following is a selection of articles sourced from around the world explaining disruptive climate change and ecological collapse, along with practical guidance for building resilience in the 12 areas of life included in The Checklist.
AN UNPALATABLE TRUTH
Shying away from the realities of climate change, such as the need to eat less meat, hinders our ability to tackle it, says Adam Corner. If we’re to get climate change under control, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report makes it clear that absolutely everything must be on the table. This includes lifestyle changes such as flying less and cutting down on eating red meat. https://LocalResilienceProject.org/an-unpalatable-truth/
VISUALISING THE GREAT ACCELERATION: OUR PLANETARY DASHBOARD
Visuals are absolutely essential for understanding the impact that human activity has been having on the planet and the emergency we are now in. For this reason, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) developed the “Planetary Dashboard” – a set of 24 global indicators that demonstrate our predicament: https://www.herox.com/crowdsourcing-news/177-visualizing-the-great-acceleration-the-igbps-plane
RESILIENCE, THE GLOBAL CHALLENGE AND THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT:
We are facing a perfect storm of environmental, social, technological, economic and geopolitical stressors. These stressors interact in unpredictable ways. The pace of future disruption is increasing. The prospect for civilizational collapse is real. We need to build meaningful resilience. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-03-25/resilience-the-global-challenge-and-the-human-predicament/
WHY HAVE WE BEEN IN DENIAL?
This article looks at our human ‘overshoot predicament’ and our collective denial and inability to discuss or act on it, despite imminent threats. Where previously the author thought that our denial was caused by a lack of awareness and understanding, he now concludes that denial must be an inherited behaviour because every country, culture, political party, and religion is in denial. https://un-denial.com/2017/06/25/why-my-interest-in-denial/
WHAT WILL YOU SAY TO YOUR GRANDCHILDREN?
Every now and then, history forces people to face up to a moral encounter we never expected. Back in the 1930s, as Hitler rose to power, those who turned away when they saw Jews being beaten in the streets never expected that decades later, their grandchildren might ask, “Why did you do nothing when there was still a chance to stop the horror?” Right now the fate of future generations is at stake, and each of us needs to be prepared to answer the question: “What did you do when you knew our future was on the line?” https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-04-08/what-will-you-say-to-your-grandchildren/
WHAT CAN WE DO?
When exposed to the facts about our ‘existential crisis’,most people experience feelings of panic, anger, and helplessness. One question frequently asked is : “Why explain all this to me if you can’t tell me what to do….What can I do?” In this article, Dr Nate Hagens offers a number of ways we can deal with anxiety about the world and take action: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-12-18/what-can-we-do-2/
BUILDING RESILIENT COMMUNITIES
Building resilient neighbourhoods is more important than ever, especially in the face of climate change and ecological collapse. To face these challenges, neighbourhood groups are organising across cities in Canada. These groups strengthen their local communities by focusing on initiatives such as sharing resources, establishing community gardens, working on local waste reduction strategies, and advocating for active transportation networks. A common theme of their work is connection, with people and with nature. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2018-12-19/building-resilient-communities-relationships-resources-and-re-imagination/
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ADAPTING TO A WARMER WORLD
Normally we think about resilience as bouncing back to pre-crisis conditions, but that’s not going to happen with climate change. We have to adopt new ways of seeing the world, new ways of thinking about our livelihoods and new ways of viewing ourselves.
FOOD: WE CAN’T KEEP EATING LIKE THIS
By 2050 there will be 2 or 3 billion more people on Earth. Any one of the issues George Monbiot refers to in this article could help precipitate mass starvation e,g, top-soil loss, water scarcity, increasing temperatures, declining pollinators, deforestation, over harvesting of the seas and plastic pollution…