2013, a Pew study that was cited by national media revealed that only 1 in 4 Americans see global warming as a threat.
The reasons why are complex and varied, but with the right approach, should not prove to be insurmountable.
Climate change will be front-and-center at the forthcoming People’s Climate March, the largest climate march in history, slated for September 21 in New York City. A group from Unity College, the first institution of higher learning to divest from investments in fossil fuels, will be attending.
Unity College’s President Stephen Mulkey has released a video that frames sustainability science, the leading-edge of 21st century transdisciplinary (collaborative) environmental problem solving as the centerpiece of his plan for higher education reform – including the mitigation of global climate change – as central to higher education reform.
Unity College Professor of Psychology Don Lynch, a frequent commentator on psychological issues for media like National Public Radio, says empathy can be an important component to reconciling denial of climate change with the empirical evidence at hand.
“There is no lack of data to support the existence of human caused global climate change,” Lynch said. A key to understanding denial relates to factors revealed in cognitive science.
Lynch points to a well-known precept in psychology that says our brains’ failure to perceive gradual environmental change accurately as opposed to abrupt shifts is a common mistake.
“Denial is a powerful defense mechanism,” Lynch stated. “Those who profit from fossil fuel production, and often those who promote the unfettered free market view of the world, may prefer to deny climate change.”
Some conspiratorial theorists still deny humankind’s landing on the moon and a host of other scientific achievements, Lynch says. The latter group that subscribes to a free market worldview is strongly associated with the rejection of climate change.
There are institutional agents devoted to ensuring the status quo, regardless of the empirical evidence.
“Corporate media, political lobbyists and many politicians themselves are deeply invested in maintaining the status quo,” Lynch said.
Lynch also sees cause for hope and is pleased that Unity College is a champion of social activism as a component of wise environmental stewardship.
“As educators we need to do a better job of working in a transdisciplinary (collaborative) manner in order to communicate the undeniable dangers and urgency of global climate change,” Lynch said. “An example of the relevant disciplines should include psychology, communications, writing, economics, geosciences, sociology, and others. All of those involved need to be more empathetic to the perspectives of those they feel are in opposition to their views. That’s the best place to start.”