In truth, all these reasons can be summed up in one statement: “A baffling lack of understanding about the situation.”
Sorry to call you out like that smart people, but unless your inaction is due to climate change denial or undiagnosed head trauma, this is the only other explanation. You don’t get it and it’s long past time that you internalize the urgency being trumpeted by 97% of the scientists on the planet.
But for you listicle fans, here they are, 9 reasons why intelligent people are ignoring certain doom, presented in the form of paraphrased excuses people have said to me:
- It’s not so bad, the media exaggerates everything.
- Quit trying to scare me by presenting facts about how bad it is.
- Someone else will fix it, like the people with that atmospheric carbon capture thingy
- I read an article 10 years ago that said all renewable energy is a scam.
- I hear there’s new technology coming down the pike that will fix it – I don’t remember what it was exactly, but I heard something.
- I’m too busy to think about it right now (often said with a tiny child at their side, who will suffer the brunt of the fallout).
- I have to pay a little extra for renewable energy? Fuck that. Solar power comes from the sun, so solar power should be free.
- I won’t be alive in 20 years, so…
- I’m very well read and I understand that the climate crisis is a grave and important issue, but [fill in some non-grave, non-important excuse for inaction right now, but maybe later – which means never].
How is this possible, you ask? How is it anyone with two brain cells to rub together doesn’t yet have a grip on the multifaceted misery of the looming climate crisis after reading two or three increasingly bleak articles per week for years? “An Inconvenient Truth” laid out the sobering evidence in 2006. Doesn’t seem that long ago right? Well, we’re about 20 not-that-long years away from when everything ranging from access to coffee to the stability of powerful nations will start a quick and startling decline.
Apart from a small minority that is mobilizing, acting and protesting, everyone claiming to be concerned is doing little more than retweeting dire news with a frowny, single-tear emoji and slapping a token bumper sticker on their cars.
A perfect example of how this escalating existential threat to all of humanity hasn’t quite sunk in for most people appeared in a recent StarTribune article about Kansas City making their public transit free, and if the same could be done in Minneapolis/St Paul.
[A little background: The transportation sector contributes 29 percent of all US carbon emissions, with cars being responsible for the majority of those emissions. Slowing down the climate crisis, in part, depends heavily on reducing transportation emissions by transitioning away from private, single-occupancy cars.]
A TransitCenter report released last year called free public transit a “fever dream.” The Metropolitan Council laments the fact that Twin Cities’ public transportation currently operates at an annual deficit of at least $70 million. And people in greater Minnesota, hypocrites who enjoy hundreds of miles of rarely used, taxpayer-funded county roads, think it’s unfair that their tax dollars go toward urban transit.
Fun fact: All of that is irrelevant. There is an incipient threat to civilization as we know it and people are still fixated on inconsequential sums of money and the feelings of Rust Belt geezers, like we’re trying to solve rush hour traffic congestion.
If someone was threatening to shoot you in the face, counting backward from 10 to one, would you do literally anything to save yourself or would you write a series of tweets about a measured, gradual, budget-friendly approach to gun control until bits of your face are decorating the wall behind you? The majority of the country (and the planet) have seemingly chosen the latter.
The confounding lack of action on the climate crisis until now has eliminated the luxury of debating success, feasibility and affordability. Literally nothing is more important than saving the only rock (that we have access to) capable of supporting life. But deflections like “who’s going to pay for this?,” “but it’ll be hard,” and the ever popular “I only want to preserve our way of life for 10 square miles around my house, and everyone else can go to hell – especially foreigners” have hopelessly stalled progress.
All that matters now is that we take extreme steps to reduce our fossil fuel use. It’s now widely believed that the best chance we have at saving ourselves is to lock in and get the ball rolling on an actionable, insanely drastic plan before the end of 2020. If we don’t, millions will experience an untimely, avoidable death. Those who survive will see a real-world socioeconomic approximation of the Hunger Games, where all but a tiny elite live in conditions ranging from pre-industrial hardship to medieval poverty.
Considering the negligible progress made at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (A.K.A. COP25) in Madrid, I don’t foresee a miraculous, global mobilization against the climate crisis happening before COP26 in the UK at the end of 2020. And the speech given by President Crime Lord at Davos last week, lying about how great everything is going in America and bashing climate change activism at a forum focused on climate change, doesn’t exactly fill one with hope that we won’t be fighting wars over clean water before I die.
To be clear, we’re not talking about some unfathomably, distant future version of Earth. Anyone under 20, and not a multi-millionaire, will likely live some or all of the second half of their lives with rolling food and clean water shortages. How parents aren’t as alarmed by that fact as they are about their children playing with Chinese-made toys that might have lead in them haunts me every single day. And I don’t even have children.
Even if you don’t personally live long enough to see water become the most valuable substance on Earth, you’ll definitely lose access to some or all of life’s comforts, including reasonable shelter and good health. (The article doesn’t even mention the extinction of chocolate, the greatest joy Earth has to offer.)
Free public transportation probably isn’t even among the top 20 most difficult and/or most expensive problems we have to solve and start implementing in the next 12 months. The only question is can all these seemingly impossible solutions be implemented before we’re so far past the point-of-no-return on the climate crisis that it doesn’t matter anymore?
But people don’t like to hear that. In fact, in my daily conversations about switching from fossil fuel-powered electricity to solar offsets, people really don’t like to be confronted with the fact that their inaction will mean a cascading degradation of their lives and the lives of their children.
Rather than saying “That sounds awful, what can I personally do to help?,” they get defensive and shut down. They do this because they don’t think fear is the right way to approach people about the climate crisis. Well, what fucking approach would you recommend, person that is in full denial about indisputable facts and has never done this kind of work in their entire lives?
I do this job every day. There is no uniformly “right” way to approach people. We already have two decades of evidence that the moderate approach is too easy to ignore. Come to that, so is the 15-new-articles-a-day-explaining-how-screwed-we-are approach, because these days that’s just familiar noise.
The scientific approach is too boring/clinical and discusses the crisis in time frames like decades which makes it seem like we still have plenty of time, so no need to pause your video games.
Finally, rather than rightfully scaring them shitless, the fear approach bizarrely makes some people NOT want to change anything just to own the person who tried to use the imminent downfall of civilization as we know it as key evidence for immediate action. This is true for everyday individuals all the way up to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve “teenage girls with a platform intimidate me” Mnuchin.
We wouldn’t be in this situation if there was a magic bullet for motivating people to act in their own self-interest. Even people who believe that humanity is fucked if we don’t act yesterday are difficult to motivate, beyond bumper sticker activism. Either they don’t care or they think they’re too busy to make any changes, even small ones, until after work projects/deadlines/kid stuff/holidays/summer vacation/”things settle down.” (Spoiler alert: Things never settle down.)
Stop making the climate crisis personal. It isn’t about you. It isn’t even about everyone on your continent. It’s about all of humanity. If the fear approach makes you feel shitty because you’re not doing anything, why not try to doing something rather than letting your feelings get hurt by the mean person presenting you with doomsday information that 97% of the planet’s scientists agree is definitely going to happen?
The impulse to kick the can down the road, or get defensive because your fee-fees got hurt over your laziness, is not going to change anything – except make you feel even worse for doing nothing while civilization collapses. Then you get to have your feelings hurt all over again when your kids and grand kids demand to know why you declined to act in time to save the planet, so they wouldn’t have to live in shacks and poop in a public landfill. If Thanksgiving is still a thing in 30 years, those are going to be some tense meals.
The U.S. government won’t be doing its part to combat the climate crisis anytime soon, giving the planet’s other top polluters a green light to also do nothing, so it’s up to us to make the necessary, urgent changes. A Tony Stark-type person isn’t going to materialize and save us all in the nick of time. You need to act – now.
The term “existential threat” has been used exhaustively to describe the climate crisis, but clearly that phrase isn’t evocative enough. Let’s start describing the situation with the literalness that it warrants: If you’re under 35, you’re screwed, your kids will be even more screwed and most of your grand kids probably won’t live long enough to see how deep the “You’re Screwed” pit actually goes.