Changing the Climate Crisis Conversation
- Rising sea levels are already affecting large communities.
- Air pollution is killing thousands prematurely in every bigcity.
- Over 5% of species will become extinct in the future.
- Glaciers and icecaps are melting at an unprecedented pace.
- The arctic has been burning for months while a large black cloud the size of Manhattan rises above it all.
- By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
- The Amazon rainforest is being felled, losing 739 square kilometers just during the month of May this year.
- This summer in Europe makes up for some of the hottest days recorded in history.
- We are headed towards the day when climate change could be irreversible and by 2030, at the latest, there will be no going back.
These are just some of the stories I have read this year. Each one has extreme consequences for both our present and future. But somehow it seems as though they are not enough to spur on the action that is needed to curb the climate crisis. It’s not that we don’t care – many of us do. It has been made abundantly clear that we need to change the way we talk about the climate crisis.
Doom and Gloom
This is the messaging being used to try and tackle the problem. In the last couple of years thanks to activists such as Greta Thunberg, Dr Jane Goodall and others it has done some good.
A sense of urgency has been added, a conversation has been started. The doom and gloom messaging has its place, especially when it comes to getting big corporations fronted by powerful and wealthy people to listen to the problem. However, to many of us, it seems an impossible problem. As individuals doom and gloom is shrouded in fear and only makes us want to tune it out.
“This fear, this guilt, we know from psychology is not conducive to engagement. It’s rather the opposite; it makes people passive. Because when I feel fearful, guilty, I will withdraw from the issue and I try to think about something else that makes me feel better.”
-Espen Stoknes- Psychologist, Economist
It’s easy to look the other way when facing a problem this big, and think, “Somebody else can fix it.” Our underlying psychology is that this is a distant problem, both distant in time: The impacts won’t be felt for a generation; and distant in space: This is just about extinct polar bears or, this only affects developing countries.
The climate crisis is a policy problem as well as a psychological one, as it goes against the structure of society. We have many of the solutions: Renewable energy is a big one, and it involves building new infrastructure and giving up on fossil fuels, an energy which we rely on heavily. The argument could be made that this is a structural problem that can only be fixed by government and large corporations. This would be a correct argument, except one would have failed to recognise that we as individuals are part of the structure. How we vote and how we consume allows these powers to continue to remain as they are: A part of the problem.
To many of us, climate change is invisible. Carbon is emitted constantly from our exhaust pipes, homes, our food, from the items that we buy. We can’t see it. If carbon pollution was a black cloud perpetually hanging over us, something would have been done about it a long time ago. An example of this is the Great Smog of London in 1952, which caused an estimated 4,000 deaths. This event resulted in the Clean Air Act of 1956 and formed an impetus to modern environmentalism and forced a rethinking of air pollution, as the smog had shown its deadly potential.
Though deadly images and rhetoric of the impacts of climate change may have a place to make change happen, death shouldn’t be the sole catalyst. Fear and guilt should instead be replaced a competitive streak and a hope for positive change. According to psychologists, if there’s one thing that will make us want to rebel against the rules of our society, it’s competitiveness. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Imagine how good this would be if we shared our wins instead of our losses? If we were all fighting to be better?
Students are incredibly competitive, especially when they are rewarded. A competition to be the most positive force for change in the world would avoid the temptation to withdraw from the issue and instead see it as an opportunity to be active rather than passive.
What can Teachers do?
- There is No Planet B. Help bring balance by being informative with students and focusing on the positive impact that they can make.
- Promote Action. Educate students in how to make practical changes that will make a significant impact.
- Vote For Change. Vote with the environment in mind. In this case, one person can be the difference for our future. Teach our young people in schools today, who are learning about the climate crisis, that their voice and their vote matters.
- Fridays for Future. Fight against the “business as usual” attitude. Encourage students to become an activist online and in the real world. Don’t let the expectation that their words will fall on deaf ears prevent them from speaking out. We can’t suffer in silence in the face of the climate crisis, or any other issues that students will have to face.Time is of the essence, and many are stuck in the mindset of helplessness. This is an insurmountable problem if only one person makes some changes. However, if every person stuck in this helplessness mindset began to focus on what they can do to drastically reduce their carbon footprint, we would all have a better fighting chance for the future.
How will you add to the positive change at both work and home? If every ’one’ does their part, the results will show. Remember the old African proverb: If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try going to bed with a mosquito.