There is another way of asking, and answering the question: how close to climate crisis are we? That is to ask it from the perspective of our individual and collective psychology.
Perhaps the first book (and research) to be published alerting the world to the limits to growth was -The Limits to Growth,1 published in 1972. Tellingly, the first figure in that book (on p19 of more than 200 pages) was one that looked like the following:
This understanding is pertinent to climate change activism. Climate change, for many people, is not near at hand, it is screened onto our TV from elsewhere in the world. Climate change is also seen as being off in the future. Climate change for many is not here and now.
For those concerned about climate change, this perspective is of concern. Climate change dialogue, activism, policies, and research is mostly situated in the upper right hand corner of the time/space continuum, as pictured below:
I do not know the answers to that question. However, there are some psychological understandings that may be worth looking at when attempting answers.
- When people are faced with a crisis that they can see no way of preventing, they will tend to withdraw and stop thinking about it.
- People tend to try to prevent present suffering without regard to long-term consequences.
- People are often more concerned about something concrete, rather than abstract.
- People will tend towards the social norm. People are influenced by the behaviour of those close to them.
- When faced with bad news, or something scary (e.g. climate crisis) there is a tendency towards the classic fight or flight. Thus, faced with activism, people will either turn away or will oppose vigorously.
Those concerned with climate crisis need to think about:
- how to work with established neighbourhoods, communities, and networks,
- speak to local issues and local concerns,
- work towards an empathic approach to those in opposition (they may be “fighting” from fear),
- bring the possibilities of change into the here and now – focus less on UN agreements and global summits. Make the concerns “real,” and not far off in other times and other places.
1. Meadows, Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, Limits to Growth, Universe Books, New York, 1972.