Beyond the changes that will be coming to our environment because of Climate Change, which can and must be addressed, is the realization that without a wholesale cooperation from the public there will be no real solutions to adapting to and averting more Climate Change. It still is the case that the real power in this country resides, despite great doubts by many, in the people. What the public chooses to buy, where they choose to work, how they choose to move around, and who they choose to vote for matters a lot—even though all these elements are influenced by advertising, the need for a job, and more. At the end of the day in this democracy what the public thinks matters—and it really matters on Climate Change.
So, on to my arm-chair psychology: Why is the public, most of the public, sitting on the sidelines on Climate Change even though most know that it is a major game changer? The world is getting hotter and the public, most of the public, still goes about their daily lives as if everything, our environment, our weather, and our public health is going to go on as it always has.
There are a zillion theories as to why the public doesn’t consider Climate Change as a measure of who they vote for, or any other important deciding factors in their lives. I’m not going to go into them, you know most of them. Here’s my spin. I think conventionalism, what others near you think, is one of the greatest determinates of our species’ behavior. When reading about why soldiers in the North went off to the Civil War, this remark from a farm boy in New York struck me: “I’m going to the war because the boy in the farm next to ours is going.”
When reacting to catastrophes, we tend to look around and see how others near us are responding. If you are sitting in a theatre munching on your popcorn, gazing intently on a film you’ve been waiting a long time to see, and then someone yells “Fire!” your first reaction is not to bolt out the door. Your first reaction is to look around and see if anyone else in the theatre is doing anything different. If no one, a theatre manage for example, or the person next to you isn’t even changing their expression, odds are that you’ll sit right there and continue watching the film.
It’s what we do; look around to see if our actions and reactions fit societal norms. The Climate Change Crisis is real and it is happen now, but to most it is happening too slowly to see. We look around to see what our neighbors, our families, our fellow employees, and our groups are doing. If no one is reacting to Climate Change, then we think it isn’t happening. Climate Change, an unprecedented warming quickly of our planet due to burning fossil fuels, is very unconventional—now at least.
There will come a tipping point of public awareness and attention to Climate Change eventually because it’s about physics. Put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the place warms up and causes all kinds of disruptions. The problem with this conventional reaction to an unconventional problem is that by the time the Climate Change Crisis becomes conventional, and very obvious, it will be way too late to address it.