When we think of climate change, we think of global warming and rising sea levels. The 2 degrees Celsius limit on global average temperature often comes up. To the average person, 2 degrees isn’t a lot, it might not even be enough to convince you to put on a jacket on a warm day.
In short, scientists and climate experts have not adequately explained climate change to people. Most people would agree that climate change is happening, as they would also agree that it is an important issue. The problem is the massive scale of the issue that is alienating everyday citizens from the issue.
The problem here is that when scientists talk about climate change, they are both informing and frightening away the audience. Human psychology itself perpetuates the difficulty of climate change.
The isolation from the issue of climate change appears to be caused by time and scale. While a single person only has a minuscule impact on our world, it is the collective 7.4 billion humans on Earth that collectively contributes to this issue. This number is enormous, so much so that I would argue anyone would have trouble quantifying such a number into something comprehendible. For instance, if you had 7.4 billion almonds, would the average person be able to describe what that would look like? I certainly hope not. If so, congratulations. This analogy of almonds is what stops us from thinking about climate change. It is too big of a problem, so we think “what can I do?”
Climate change can also be invisible. According to a publication by the American Psychological Association (APA), the immediate effects of climate change are not inherently deemed important enough for us to care. While many people face the effects of climate change everyday- through droughts, floods, wildfires, etc- still many only hear about this on the news and are not personally impacted by it. Human psychology argues that we are selfish and we only care about issues and concerns that impact us directly. Unfortunately, for many people, climate change sits outside of the sphere in which we are motivated to care.
The real impacts of climate change are to become increasingly visible in the next few decades. Humanity is pushing the issues and effects of climate change onto the next generation. Some countries however, such as The Netherlands, are taking a different approach to this issue.
The Netherlands is home to a mobile barrier, a dam of sorts for the ocean. The Maeslant structure, the biggest of its kind in the world, was built in the 1990s to protect the city of Rotterdam from storm surges. Peter Persoon, an engineer at the Maeslant structure, was quoted saying:
“What we tell the people here in the Netherlands is, if the country is flooded the damage will be at least 700 billion euros,” Persoon says. “If you instead spend every year one billion euros, you spread the bill over 700 years. That is, I think, the Dutch way.”
It can be argued that the Dutch are motivated to possess this mindset towards climate change because of how the issues of rising sea levels have a very immediate, visible and financially threatening to Dutch citizens. Unfortunately, this mindset is less visible in the rest of the world, where the issues of climate change are associated to polar bears and penguins.
Of course, climate change is also an invisible problem in the physical form. Many don’t see it with our own eyes. One of the main contributors to climate change and global warming is carbon dioxide which is practically invisible. It comes out of the exhaust pipes of cars, but once it does, it disappears from our vision and attention. The lack of visual cues potentially cause people to dismiss it as an active phenomenon. The current president of the United States demonstrates so in his tweet stating “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!”
The problem of climate change isn’t going away. Two degrees Celsius isn’t unrealistic anymore, and perhaps we can’t even contain it to 2 degrees. Hopefully we will collectively rise to meet the obstacle sooner rather than later.
By Justin Chan
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page