A couple of weeks ago, U.S. President, Donald John Trump wandered through fire-ravaged Paradise, California, announced twice that he was in Pleasant, California, blamed environmentalists for the fires, suggested raking the forest floor like they (don’t) do in Finland, and when asked if he had changed his mind on climate change he said, “No, no, I have a strong opinion. I want great climate, we’re going to have that.”
Well, I guess that’s it then. Donald wants a great climate so the heavens will move and all the problems of the world will be solved.
Trump represents one of at least two pathologies at work in climate change denial. It has been observed by more than a few mental health professionals that the 45th President of the U.S. has an anti-social personality disorder (label it narcissism if you wish). If indeed that is true, it suggests that he is incapable of feeling empathy for anything or anybody apart from himself and that includes the environment.
Sociopaths aren’t as uncommon as one might think. They represent a large proportion of our prison populations and in the September 16 issue of the Washington Post, Gene Marks reported that 21 per cent of CEOs have psychopathic (anti-social) traits.
So, this particular subset of individuals will only have concern about the environment if there is something in it that works for them, and works now. Apart from tending to their own immediate interests they simply are incapable of “getting it” … social niceties and perhaps even survival are lost to their proclivities.
The big problem is that these men and women are often in positions of great power both economically and politically.
However, the other, larger portion of the climate change denying population aren’t sociopaths – they are just people. We all deny truths about ourselves, others and the world. It is a coping tool, a way to deal with the pain of loss, the dark sides of ourselves, and real or perceived threats.
Climate change denial is about our fears of what may be uncomfortable modifications to a well-worn lifestyle with which we are very comfortable. We love our cars, our easy transportation, our security, our jobs and our travel.
We buy the latest phones and constantly redecorate our homes. We buy ripped jeans and don’t patch the unintentional rips, and repairing a shoe is a lost art.
In short, we worship comfort and ease. And why wouldn’t we? Comfort is, well, comfortable. Little changes in our lives are fun, but the big changes are much harder. So, we rationalize and prevaricate and outright deny that anything is happening if it will have a major impact on our lives.
And in many ways that applies even to the most ardent environmentalists, who must rationalize in a major way every time they climb onto an airplane or drive across town. In short, climate change solutions are difficult because they command change.
The problems of climate change denial magnify when the personal becomes an ‘ism’, a group way of thinking called “denialism”. It extends the behaviour of an individual to that of a group, and in doing so creates a self-reinforcing, self-justifying and really quite irrational movement that serves a common set of fears.
Denialism is invariably angry and its members deliver antipathy toward anyone who opposes their worldview and even to the most basic logical and statistical evidence. Those caught in denialism grasp at straws to reinforce their beliefs and lend credibility to the most bizarre conspiracy theories. So it is with climate change denialism.
Credible scientific report after credible scientific report has established the reality of climate change. The predictions of how climate change will begin to affect our weather are becoming real and yet the opposition to meaningful change is increasing.
The world of denialism is rapidly moving otherwise thinking people away from sane and rational decisions – we actually are increasing our impact on the environment not decreasing it. Deniers are not facing hard realities because they are hard. They simply don’t want to hear the message and they will buy any argument that provides an excuse not to hear the truth.
So we have the lunacy of Donald Trump wanting to rake forest floors (he wasn’t kidding) or his idiotic interview with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes when he proclaimed that mainstream scientists have some sort of “big agenda” that underlies their predictions.
There is no easy fix for this problem. Denial is rooted deep in human behaviour and until solutions become available that ameliorate the very real human anxieties that underly denialism, we may be in for big, big trouble.
The strategies of the environmental movement to date have been rooted in their very real fears about the survival of humanity, but paradoxically these strategies may be far more damaging than helpful.
It might be time for some “positive vibes”.