The 5 Delusions of Climate Complacency

Keep Hoping and Carry On

Of all the conversations I’ve had on climate change, the one that has stuck with me the most was not with a climate scientist, economist, futurist or politician. It was with a close family member who classified as “general public”. Someone with a family and a job, kids and real life, day-to-day survival issues. I wanted to understand how “top of mind” climate change was to them.

There was one particular phrase they said that has stuck with me ever since our conversation, and which I think exemplifies where our society stands right now:

“I’m sure at some point they will find a way to capture back huge quantities of CO2”

Let’s analyse this, because it is critical to really understanding the level of delusion across society:

Delusion 1: The parent-child relationship
“They will find a solution” denotes “not me”, “not my problem”, or “I’m powerless”. Somewhere in the world, someone more important than me will figure this out on my behalf. It indicates the classic relationship most people have with their government: expecting leadership, responsibility, accountability, in the way that a child looks up to its parent. But our “parents” sitting in government positions are the very people who have been failing us for decades already. The people with vested political and economic interests in putting Big Money and Business As Usual above all other priorities. Many of us are deluded that someone, somewhere, is going to take responsibility. This person doesn’t exist.

Delusion 2: The Tsunami Delay
The use of the word “will” reveals the assumption that the decisive moment is still in the future, that we actually still have time, and that effective solutions will magically appear at the last minute because everyone will come together in the face of disaster.

Indeed, everyone does come together at the last minute, but this can mean either one of two things: they all survive together, or they all die together. In our case, a situation similar to what happens with tsunamis is developing. People only start running when they see the tsunami. So yes, they do all come together in the end. They all come together and run screaming in the same direction. And most will drown. Climate Change is the earthquake that causes the tsunami. It is thousands of miles away, deep in the ocean. We cannot see it or sense it. Our day to day life goes on, even though we are creating the conditions for the creation of the faultiline, the earthquake and the tsunami that follows.

Delusion 3: The Problem-Solving Paradox
Public and media perceptions of climate change continue to focus on what the solutions to climate change may be and should be, when the problem is one of implementation of existing solutions rather than creation of new ones. In fact, the most important and simple of all of them has existed for millions of years: trees.

The paradox is that the more urgent the conversation becomes, the more it continues to focus on the technological solutions rather than on the social and political sea change in our attitude that needs to take place. Rather than immediately cutting down our current emissions and consumption, we devise Green New Deals with 5, 10 and 20-year plans for creating green jobs, green energy, and other white elephants of green-washed capitalism that will undoubtedely lead to further emissions.

Delusion 4: Having our cake and eating it
COVID-19 has resulted in a 17% drop in emissions. It demonstrates that if there is conscious intention, and the understanding that severe sacrifices are needed, we can do it. But solving climate change while focusing on growth, profit and consumption is a dead end. We’ve tried that, and it didn’t work.

The truth is the average citizen does not want to give up their lifestyle, does not even want to stop having children. Most of us profess we believe climate change is real, yet very few support drastic action, which is what is needed. At the end of the day our personal lifestyle comes before the planet, and even before the future of our children. In order to justify our incredibly selfish and suicidal behaviour, we have deluded ourselves in thinking that electric cars and other “green amenities” that come with huge carbon footprints will get us where we need to be.

Delusion 5: The Normalcy Bias
Surprisingly, my family member did not argue with me about the existence of climate change. They had simply accepted it. This means that the debate has shifted from questioning the existence of climate change to questioning whether we should actually act on it. We have reached a complacent “So What?” moment.

As generations grow up with climate change in the news, there is an increasing perception that it is a very slow phenomenon that we will be able to adapt to, however severe it might be. People are finding the news reassuring rather than alarming. Many question whether climate change is even as severe as we were told. If something is already happening yet we can still have a job and a normal life, surely this means it’s not as bad as predicted.

This false self-reassurance is something that I see all the time as a market research director understanding how people process the news. We can lie to other people, but we are best at lying to ourselves. Our immediate survival needs, what is “top of mind”, always takes priority over future needs, and any intention for action can be easily sabotaged by an elaborate set of post-rationalisations that can push ethics and rationality aside for the sake of convenience and short-term benefits.

We are about to witness the days of the Aral Sea, where for decades people saw the huge lake diminish through over use, but instead of restoring it they normalised themselves to the situation until there was no water, no fish, a toxic dust bowl, cancer, total ecological annihilation and mass migration.

As I was wrapping up my chat with my family member, I found myself trying to warn them about the doom and gloom of the future on a sunny day, by a marina full of yachts and happy sea gulls, having coffee. Trying to explain that the world as we know it could be coming to an end in the next few decades when it obviously isn’t right at this moment, judging from the idyllic surroundings our conversation was taking place in. What I got back was lots of “yes I agree”, as well as lots of interruptions in our convesation to check their phone, pay the waiter, etc. It couldn’t have possibly been a more surreal conversation. I could sense their self-normalisation taking place there and then even as they heard their own words. Why should we think that our politicians are any different?

As you walk through the desert, your judgement may fail you. But the mirages will be reassuring

to be continued…(or not)

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5 thoughts on “The 5 Delusions of Climate Complacency

  1. The human lifespan and corresponding history along with our immense optimism bias is not long enough to give us a clear picture of long term reality. We are wired to pursue relatively immediate pleasures and rewards. Our collective ability to agree and follow cultural delusions is quite amazing and dangerous. Complex civilization is too big and unnatural. We are small band pack animals. We cannot care about the well being of every other human or animal or the health of the entire biosphere. A modern human has become an extremely high maintenance animal. The creature comforts and power that can be acquired in the civilization hierarchy are real. The cost of those comforts and privileges is also real and completely unsustainable over the long term. We collectively have a moral distaste for murder of our own kind, but not too much for other species. But as this suicidally optimistict exploitation of the planet and each other becomes more apparent our distaste for murdering our own kind may subside, if it means giving up our creature comforts and power. Our collective narcissism and tool making ability has brought us to a grossly exaggerated predicament with no way out but the opposite of self interest. Self sacrifice. Are we capable? Not looking good! Love Rick

  2. Yes…..delusions abound, and we seem to either be chickens running around with our heads cut off….or vultures fattening up on the chaos, both oblivious to the fact we cannot swim. And the tsunami grows….

  3. >> As I was wrapping up my chat with my family member, I found myself trying to warn them about the doom and gloom of the future on a sunny day, by a marina full of yachts and happy sea gulls, having coffee.

    yeah … I feel this sometimes even by just self-reflection. I still have my (minimal, because I’m officially invalid, I barely can read any text without my viewing glasses – this result in some amount of ‘free’ money) life, with Youtube and dog walks. Really BIG Scary Stuff still some time in future. Yeah, apparently some of unprecedented arrived early (I initially was very moved by russian essay on ‘peak oil’ – not simply by technical/geological side of it but by realizing real socio-economico-political situation can cause a lot of damage even if purely-technical solution may just exist, and be at the edge of possibility. But humans don’t do pure technology, it all complex’ed with politics, economics and society! So, while peak oil per se may not coming out for us frontally – it may well be around in another form – there is no point () in burning even possible to extract amount of oil if it really will make situation much worse, for nearly everyone! Yet …… our psychology and how it distributed (humans who feels for those problems honestly basically never come at position where their actions can change history – they not ones who amassed money and political capital by any lie available! And humans with some real power have very little impulse or even mechanisms to act out differently …) prevent course change ….

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