Yesterday I attended a sobering event called Facing up to Climate Change. It was a discussion with Clive Hamilton about his new book, Requiem for a Species. Clive Hamilton is Australian author, public intellectual and professor of public ethics.
The sub-title of the book is Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change. On his website, Mr Hamilton explains: “Sometimes facing up to the truth is just too hard. There have been any number of urgent scientific reports in recent years emphasizing just how dire the future looks and how little time we have left to act. But around the world only a few have truly faced up to the facts about global warming. This book is about why we have ignored those warnings, so that now it is too late.”
“We should stop believing we can get out of this,” Mr Hamilton said. We can’t.
“We should stop pretending it will go away.” It won’t.
A common hope that “everything will be OK” is misleading. “We shouldn’t give people hope that climate change is still avoidable.” It is not.
“Every new study on climate change paints a bleaker and bleaker picture,” he continued. And yet we are still insufficiently psychologically involved with climate change.
“The future looks impossible,” said scientist Kevin Anderson, on whose work Mr Hamilton relies in his book.
Is this paranoia? It surely isn’t as bad yet, now is it?
Well, there has been a rise in climate change denial (think Climategate, the hacked scientific documents) at the time when scientific research is proving that the situation is worse than was thought before.
And yet the world has been too slow to react. Why is that? That’s what the book is about. Mr Hamilton explained: climate change deniers simply reject facts (and climate scientists simply reject deniers). Others respond with maladaptive strategies, such as “If I don’t care I won’t feel bad”, blame-shifting (“it’s US and China’s fault”), diversion of thoughts to avoid guilt (“I’ll change my lightbulbs and recycle more”) or by good old indifference. We’re just too sensitive to admit the truth.
Another problem, Mr Hamilton said, is that homo nonsapiens tends to respond to immediate danger only, ignoring signs of threat until a disaster strikes (think WW2). So our species may not be as rational as we claim to be, and unfortunately only a huge climate change-related disaster could sober us up.
I felt totally confused. Where is my bit? What can individuals do to prevent our species from self-destruction?
Firstly, face the situation, Mr Hamilton said. Yes, we have to continue recycling, reducing our consumption, discussing the issues in public, but what we really need is a fundamental social change and bing-bang politics. We have to think how we will adapt to inevitable changes that global warming is preparing for us. And grieve for our lost future.
(All this is scary. I would like to believe it’s exaggeration. But what if it’s not…)
Here’s Mr Hamilton on his book and climate change:
Photo: oddsock via flickr