Psychologists have identified a range of coping strategies used to manage the unpleasant feelings that follow when we open ourselves to the message of climate science. We use a whole range of ‘maladaptive coping strategies’; admit some of the facts and allow some of the emotions, but do so in distorted form. Climate change denial is a widespread psychological phenomenon and we all seem to be guilty of doing it.
- Distraction (switching off because the information is too disconcerting)
- Wishful thinking (distancing)
We look for a split second and then we look away, because the information is too disconcerting. Staying pretty hazy on the details and only skimming most of the news stories, especially the really scary ones. Telling yourself the science is too complicated and that the environmentalists are dealing with it.
Or we look but then turn it into a joke (“more signs of the Apocalypse!”).
We look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat from the sun.
We look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract.
We look but tell ourselves all we can do is focus on ourselves. Shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving – but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that will never work. And at first it may appear as if we are looking, because many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.
A great many of us engage in climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.
We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the sea, and our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we do now, whether it’s counting on a techno-fix or tending to our gardens or telling ourselves we’re unfortunately too busy to deal with it.
Adaptive coping strategies are positive behaviours based on full acceptance of the facts and experience of the emotions.