Some colleagues and I came up with the following list of barriers that keep people in our society from facing and dealing with the climate crisis. I thought you might find some food for thought here. I'd love to hear what you think!
1. Climate change is scary stuff. It makes people feel bad just thinking about it. And people don’t like to feel bad ... so they try not to think about it.
2. Climate change is a result of greenhouse gas pollution, but it’s not being addressed in terms of air / atmospheric pollution.
3. People have been so numbed and dumbed down by screen time that the constant repetition of deniers’ “memes” in the social media echo chamber makes their claims sound true. Because people are too busy to check out the veracity of the deniers’ claims, they are susceptible to being misled and deceived.
4. Selfishness is no longer frowned upon and sacrifice is for chumps. In our society, people just don’t think like ancestors anymore. (“Everybody wants change but nobody wants to change”—a YouTube commenter).
5. Climate change is a global issue that makes personal and local solutions seem unimportant, trite, and useless, so people get discouraged.
6. In a weird sort of NIMBYism, people say climate change is happening elsewhere (Not In My Back Yard), so they don’t have to think about it. What has happened to our compassion?
7. The concerted denial and confusion campaign has been extremely well funded and organized by vested interests (seven of the eight biggest corporations in the world are fossil fuel companies). This denial campaign has been very successful in seeding doubt about the science in the public’s mind and very successful in promoting delay in our global response to greenhouse gas pollution.
8. Climate scientists who aren’t trained to communicate with the public can’t compete with the self-proclaimed pundits in the denial camp.
9. Cognitive dissonance creates a vicious circle. People don’t see governments taking urgent action, so they think it’s not urgent. And since citizens aren’t demanding urgent action, governments don’t want to take urgent action, afraid it might impact the economy. (Actually, climate change mitigation would be a large economic benefit everywhere.)
10. There’s so much to know and learn and understand! That’s why people must listen to scientists, not deniers. But lack of media literacy means the public has fallen for things like the bias of false “balance” in the news.
11. Scientific, ecological, and climate illiteracy is widespread. The public lacks understanding of concepts such as ecological limits, peer review, weight of evidence, feedback loops, exponential growth, shifting baselines, carbon cycles, and even natural versus industrial / anthropogenic causes of climate change. This is where teachers can make a difference.
12. This is a crisis of imagination and creativity. Getting to zero carbon ought to be viewed as an exciting goal. Teachers can contribute to reaching this goal!
13. In our culture, people don’t always work well together. Key stakeholders and negotiators often find it difficult to cooperate. Sometimes processes and rules—not to mention greed—get in the way of success.
14. People don’t get that our greatest near-term threats from climate change are food and water shortages and insecurity. Humans have evolved over the last 10,000 years into a species dependent on agriculture, and agriculture has depended on the stable climate of the last 10,000 years. Climate change threats are more imminent than people think.