Moving towards sustainability requires everyone’s involvement. The biggest barrier to accomplishing the things we need to in order to move towards sustainability is in our own heads. Too often, the people I talk with about sustainability and the global situation express either an indifferent attitude, downright rejection, or disbelief of what most of us consider to be facts. I see a couple of common threads in their thinking.
Some people are indifferent, and thus inactive. I believe that most of those who appear indifferent aren’t really, but appear that way because they feel helpless, and that they can’t make a difference. This is the same phenomenon I’ve seen in the way some people deal with politics – they are so overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the whole thing that they are daunted, and have no idea where to start or if they can even do anything that will make a difference. They secretly hope that either the problems aren’t as bad as they appear, or that other people will make the difference or fix the problems so they won’t have to confront them. The secret is that not only CAN we each make difference (though the results are hard to see for a while), success in such huge endeavors is only possible if we ALL take it seriously , learn what our options are and what they can accomplish, and do what we believe is right.
Denial is natural and understandable. It is understandable that people would deny the big problems facing humanity – overpopulation, climate change, pollution, etc. Compared with a couple of decades ago the concerns are much greater, and solutions much less obvious. The concerns of the Viet Nam war, for example, didn’t threaten to affect our lives directly in the same way, or at least it seemed so. Those problems could be ended or greatly mitigated by government action, after which almost all of us would continue to live our lives of relative leisure. Today’s problems are threatening the comfortable lifestyles we’ve lived all our lives in the developed countries, and will change everyone’s lives inexorably. The changes will almost certainly impact our lifestyles in fundamental ways, with energy and food much more expensive, for example. That change alone threatens to greatly reduce the middle class, sending many into the poorer economic strata. Nobody wants to fall back, economically, yet it appears highly likely that many, probably a majority, will do so. This is tough stuff to face for anyone. A sense of loss, and going through the five stages of grieving, can be expected. (see my earlier entry: What is Behind the Denial of Climate Change.)
Some problem-deniers are not looking at all the available information, and in some cases this appears purposeful. It is natural for people to reject what frightens them. Similarly it is natural for many pundits, politicians, and journalists to feed on whatever trends seem to their advantage, including denial of our unsustainable lifestyles and world situation. (see my recent blog entry on How Pundits Support Denial of Climate Change.)
How will change come about? So how do we convince the deniers that the problems need them, too, to change the way they live and do specific things to mitigate our problems on the way to solving them. The answer is … it’s up to us. Certainly, as costs rise and other evidence of the impact of our unsustainable population and our land and energy use habits “come home to roost”, more and more people will take notice. We need to promote the need for worldwide improvements in education, family planning, and environmental science, as well as the development of new technologies such as carbon sequestration for power plants (and vehicles?) at every opportunity. Hopefully these improvements and the predictions of scientists will get enough traction to get the masses of humanity to change before nature forces change on us. We can and must do more than pray, however. We must take action everywhere we can.
As always, I welcome your comments.