Climate change or not: We need to transform our civilization anyway

THE ESSENCE: WE NEED TO TRANSFORM OUR CIVILIZATION ANYWAY

There is a simple common-sense approach to climate change:

These are changes we need to transform our civilization no matter what. Human-created climate change or not, we need to shift our civilization into being ecologically sustainable. We need to take ecological realities into account in every aspect of how we collectively live.

We use nearly two Earths’ worth of resources at any moment, which means all of the resources will eventually be depleted unless we make drastic changes. We use more resources than Earth has the capacity to regenerate, and we depend on those resources for our life and survival.

AND SOME ADDITIONAL POINTS

The discussion about whether climate change is happening (it is) and whether it’s created by humans (it is) has little to no practical relevance in this context. It’s a distraction and a side track.

That said, I will pretend it does mean something in the following points:

It makes sense to follow the precautionary principle. If something has potentially serious consequences, we need to take it seriously. We need to prepare for it. We need to act as if it’s going to happen. That’s what we do in other areas of life, so why not with something as potentially disastrous as climate change?

Experts in the field all agree: (i) We are in the middle of climate change. (ii) It’s created by human activities. And (iii) it likely has severe consequences for our civilization. In other areas of life, we listen to and generally trust experts, especially when they all say the same. So why not also here?

The ones disagreeing are typically not experts in the field, they are amateurs. Many are on the payroll of the oil companies. And we know that the oil companies have had an intentional disinformation campaign going for decades. So why trust what they say?

The changes in climate we currently see closely fit predictions from the early climate change models from the 1970s. They fit what we expect to see if (i) there is climate change, (ii) it’s human-created, and (iii) we don’t do much to change it. It does not fit natural cycles explained by solar activity etc. It does not fit what we would expect if it was natural and not created by civilization.

Although the climate is immensely complex, the basic principles of climate change are simple. Even a child can understand and observe it, and people predicted it more than a hundred years ago. In a greenhouse, short waves (light) enter through the glass, hit a surface and become longer waves (heat), and that heat is partially trapped by the glass. There is a net gain of heat. And greenhouse gasses do the same. Short waves (sunlight) pass through our atmosphere, hit a surface and become heat, and the greenhouse gasses trap the heat. Just like a greenhouse heats up because of the glass, the atmosphere and planet heats up because of greenhouse gasses. Our civilization produces a lot of greenhouse gasses and changes the composition of the atmosphere. What we are seeing is exactly what we would expect to see.

NOTHING NEW

This is not a new or uncommon way to look at it.

To me, it’s just common sense, and I have seen it this way since my teens in the ’80s. I remember a conversation with a teacher about this in my high school where I pointed out that climate change is irrelevant since we need to make the same changes anyway. (He disagreed and I probably remember it since it seemed odd to me.)

CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL TAKES DIFFERENT FORMS

For whatever reason, there is still a lot of denial around this.

In the past, some denied climate change is happening but that’s not possible anymore. (Unless you want to deny the climate data and what you can see around you with your own eyes.)

These days, some like to deny it’s related to human activity.

Why do some deny that it’s human-created? Because it’s too scary? Or require a deep transformation of our worldview and our civilization? Or because it’s a threat to your identity to admit that scientists and progressives were right? None of those seem a good reason to me.

WHY THE SLOW CHANGE?

Even if most of us agree it’s happening and it’s serious, we collectively don’t do much to change it. We deny its seriousness and that we need a profound transformation in our collective and individual lives.

Why don’t we collectively do enough to change it?

There are many reasons for this.

Systems inherently try to keep stable. Systems stay dynamically stable until they reach a tipping point, and denial is an expression of the system trying to maintain its current (outdated) state. The denial and complacency are expressions of this dynamic inherent in all systems.

Election cycles are typically between two and six years, and addressing climate change requires planning on a much longer timespan – decades and centuries. If politicians do something now, we won’t see the effects until decades later so even if they personally would like to work on it, they don’t have systemic incentives to do so.

We think someone else will take care of it, either other people alive today or future generations.

We think the crisis will happen in the future, so we push the problem onto future generations. (Even if we are right in the middle of it already.)

Many are voiceless in our system. Non-human beings and future generations don’t have an effective voice in our society, in our politics, and in business decisions. The ones who have the strongest reasons to want a change have no voice. (We can give them a voice by appointing advocates for them who have a real say in politics and business decisions.)

We think someone will come up with a simple technological solution, so we don’t need any fundamental changes in our worldview and how we collectively organize ourselves. (We may find technological solutions, but they will never be enough on their own.)

Collectively and individually, we are busy dealing with our day-to-day life and challenges We may end up using most of our resources to deal with immediate climate crisis challenges, and find it difficult to make the real and systemic changes required.

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How to deal with climate anxiety & grief?

More people seem to experience climate crisis anxiety and grief, often from a combination of the changes we experience personally and what we know from scientists. And it goes beyond just the climate crisis, it’s connected with the larger ecological crisis we are in the middle of.

As usual, there are several sides to this.

An opportunity to heal person wounds

One is that our current climate crisis can trigger our own personal wounds. Some of the grief and anxiety we experience may have roots early in our life, and it’s good to address this. In this way, the climate crisis triggers something in us that is in need of healing anyway, and if we are willing and able to invite in healing for it, it can be a great gift for us.

The beauty inherent in our grief and anxiety

The anxiety and grief we experience from the loss of ecosystems – and the loss of them as they were – is natural and healthy. It shows we are consciously and emotionally connected to the wider living systems that we already are physically connected with, embedded within, and dependent on for our survival and well-being. It comes from love, so there is an immense beauty inherent in this anxiety and grief.

It’s important to acknowledge and honor our anxiety and grief, and see the inherent beauty in it.

Practical steps in the world

What practical steps can we take in our life and the world?

It’s perhaps most helpful to engage in a constructive way, even if it’s something small. It can be something local, doable, and where we see the effects relatively quickly. For instance, composting, eating more local food and lower on the food chain, switching part of the lawn to wildflowers or food-producing plants, make a habit of doing something else – dance, go into nature – when we notice an impulse to shop, joining a local group working on fun and constructive projects, and so on.

We can also engage in visions of the future we want, and share it with others. We can do this through writing, art, reading, learning about alternatives, and perhaps even get started on this in our own life. For instance, and if we wanted to make a bigger step, we could join an ecovillage or ecovillage project.

It’s equally important to work on stopping the destruction and although some are cut out for this, it can also be draining unless we are very conscious of how we approach it. The more we see people as enemies, get focused on the destruction, expect quick results, go into victimhood and hopeless thought patterns, and so on, the easier we get burnt out. And the more we can avoid enemy-making, look at all the constructive signs and movements, keep the big and long term picture in mind, celebrate small victories, stay connected with nature and have a sense of connections with future generations, and so on, the more likely we are to avoid burnout.

Exploring it further for ourselves

We can also explore this further.

What stressful beliefs do I have about the climate crisis or the larger ecological crisis? What do I find when I explore these? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

What fears and identities are triggered? What do I find when I explore them? (Living Inquiries.)

How would it be to make a habit of releasing tension out of my system around this? (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises.)

How would it be to deeply acknowledge what comes up in me around it and intentionally connect with nature and past & future generations? And to do so with a group of similar-minded people? (Practices to Reconnect.)

How would it be to notice that it all – my thoughts and emotion and the world and the crisis – happen within and as what I am? (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

Doing what’s easy and attractive

I watched the climate change episode of the new Cosmos series with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and was surprised that he named “greed” as the main reason for the problems we are facing.

That may be a small part of it. But it’s not the main part, and it’s also not a helpful orientation if we want a change. We have tried shaming and blaming, and it doesn’t work very well.

To me, it’s mainly structural. And it’s also about identity.

We have an economical system  that’s not aligned with ecological realities. It’s created as if there is unlimited natural resources, and unlimited capacity to absorb waste and toxins. And the same goes for how we have organized ourselves in terms of transportation, energy, waste, politics, education, and more. None of these systems have been designed with ecological realities in mind.

And there is a good reason why: they didn’t need to. When they were designed, or when they evolved into what we have today, ecological concerns were peripheral at best. Other concerns were far more salient and important. Ecology wasn’t important, since we didn’t have the technology to wreak the kind of havoc we can today, and we also didn’t have the numbers to make it add up the way it does today. Our current systems were designed in a very different situation than we have today, and they are outdated, and have been for a while now.

These systems were designed, unintentionally, so that what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals, corporations, and societies – often happens to be what’s destructive for the living systems we are part of, and depend on for our well beings and lives. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it is right now. More and more people are waking up to this.

And we cannot fix it by patching here and there. We need to redesign these systems at a very basic level. We need to redesign them so that what’s easy and attractive to do, is what’s most supportive – or even restorative – for the Earth’s living systems, for ourselves and our families, for the global society, for non-human species, and for future generations.

We know quite a few solutions. One is to tax what we don’t want, and subsidize what we want more of. Another is to set product prices so they reflect an approximation of the real ecological, health, and human costs of the product.

This is also about identity.

If we see ourselves as an integral part of the Earth’s living systems, we are more likely to be concerned with this and support the solutions.

And if we are faced with (a) reasons to support these changes that fit into our existing values and identity, and (b) solutions that do the same, we are also much more likely to see this as important, and actively support it – through voting and how we live our lives.

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Conservative identity, climate change, and framing

Conservatives who reject the science of climate change aren’t necessarily reacting to the science, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University. They’re reacting to the fact that they don’t like proposed solutions more strongly identified with liberals.

– from Conservatives Don’t Hate Climate Change, They Hate The Proposed Solutions: Study in Huffington Post

There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

– from Denying Problems When We Don’t Like The Solutions, Duke University

This can be understood through the lens of identity. Conservatives assume that the solutions to climate change don’t fit with their conservative identity, so they deny the problem even exists.

My uncle is a good example. He deeply loved nature and even taught biology at the university. At the same time, he deeply despised hippies and environmentalists. So he would take a position against sustainability and anything else he associated with dirty hippies and dangerously naive environmentalists. This included the reality and importance of climate change. It’s possible that the thought of agreeing with dirty hippies was too much for him, even if he loved nature and was an environmentalist at heart.

How can we use this understanding? For instance, how can  we frame the topic so it’s less threatening to the conservative identity, or so it fits well into and is attractive to the conservative identity?

Here are some ideas for framing and communication:

Highlight reasons for supporting sustainability that match conservative values and identity. It allows us to maintain our society and traditions. It’s good for business. (Opens for new business opportunities.) It’s good for our families and children, and their children. We take care of God’s creation. We are better stewards of God’s creation. 

Highlight solutions that fit into conservative values and identity. (See that there are solutions that are non-threatening, or even attractive, from a conservative view.) Reduce taxes on sustainable technology, products and energy. Subsidize businesses that move strongly in a sustainable direction, in how they operate and the services and products they offer. Emphasize business opportunities. Support innovation in sustainable products and services.

Highlight conservative business and political leaders who (a) acknowledge the need for sustainability, (b) support sustainability, and (c) embrace solutions to sustainability that fits into the conservative values and identity. (See that it’s possible.)

 And some research ideas:

Divide up in two, three or four conservative groups: cultural conservatives, old fashioned business conservatives, free-market liberals, libertarians.

Offer differently framed messages, and see if how they respond.

Different messages: (a) Connect it with traditional environmentalists and their message. (This would be a control group of sorts, and is likely to get an averse reaction from many.) (b) Highlight how it fits conservative values. (c) Highlight solutions that fit conservative values. (d) Highlight conservatives who actively support sustainability. (e) Combine b-d. (f) Possibly target the different types of conservatives within b-d.

The control group would receive an unrelated message before answering these questions. The other groups would receive the messages outlined above.

Outcomes: How important they see sustainability. If they see sustainability as desirable and supportive of families, communities, and business. Their support of solutions aligned with their values. How important it is that the solutions and approaches align with their (conservative) values.

Do preliminary studies and interviews to (a) identify types of conservatives, and (b) which types of messages seem to resonate the most for each of these types.

The message can be written, or audio or video.

It’s important to note that this is coming from an honest place. By framing the message so it fits conservative values and identities, it’s just made available to another group of people. They get to see that sustainability very well can fit their values. And, possibly, that it’s something they can support more wholeheartedly through voting, words and actions.

Note: What are the values of a green conservative? It will depend on the type of conservative, and there are probably books on the topic, and groups out there who define as green conservatives. And, of course, as with any greens, there are light (small steps) and deep (deep restructuring) variations, and also green-washing (sustainability in name only).

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Climate change

When it comes to climate change, it’s interesting how the public discourse has been derailed, and especially in the US.

It’s been derailed in a couple of different ways. First, through confusion about the science. And then, through framing it in terms of cost.

To me, another approach makes much more sense:

We need to align with ecological realities anyway, climate change or no climate change. We need to restructure our systems – in economy, production, energy, food, transportation and more – so they reflect ecological realities. And the sooner we do it, the easier the transition will be, and the less it will cost us. (Waiting costs us in terms of health, quality of life, natural disasters, ecological degradation.)

And this is an amazing opportunity. It will fuel innovation and new industries on a scale rivaling and surpassing the industrial revolution. The green revolution is an opportunity for us to intentionally redesign how we organize ourselves at all levels and in all sectors of society, in a way that improves quality of life, benefits our health, is deeply democratic, requires creativity and innovation, and fuels technology and industry. We have an opportunity to redesign our systems so that what’s easy and attractive to do for individuals and corporations is also what’s good for the larger social and ecological systems, nonhuman species, and future generations.

Why has the public discourse been derailed? There may be several reasons.

The petroleum industry is intentionally muddling the water. One example is paying scientists from non-climate fields to pose as climate experts.

The topics may appear as a threat to those with a strong free-market ideology. They fear, perhaps rightly so, that the necessary changes will require strong political leadership and public institutions.

The topic may trigger anti-authoritarian or anti-elitist responses.

More generally, the topic doesn’t fit some people’s identity. They associate it with earlier generation environmentalists and hippies, and they don’t want to be like them.

There is a general misperception in several areas. There is a perception of….. (a) Disagreement among scientists, where in reality 99% agree it’s happening, it’s human caused, and the sooner we do something the better. (b) There being more climate deniers than there actually is. The reality is typically 8-5% or less. (c) It costing us and being a drawback, instead of an amazing and unique opportunity.

The topic may seem distant. It may seem overwhelming. It may trigger fear and guilt.

For me, climate change has been two things since I first heard about it. (a) A focal point for the changes we need to make anyway, for those concerned with climate change. And (b) an irrelevant distraction since we need to make the changes anyway. Which one I emphasize depends on the situation and audience.

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