Environmental Escapism


According to Dr. Quentin Chiotti, a Canadian environmental scientist, when it comes to facing up to the environmental crisis facing the world, there seems to be a number of degrees (he speaks of four) or stages of denial at work among the general public.

The first stage is a denial that there is any crisis to begin with—this despite the overwhelming evidence presented not just by science, but even by common-sense every day observation (like keeping tabs on what kinds of bugs are invading your back yard or how many days a near-by lake or stream is frozen over).

The second stage or degree of denial is that even if one admits there might be a problem, one denies that humans are in any way responsible or contributing to it. At this level we find ourselves reminded that the earth has passed through many cycles of climate change before, and that all the evidence that human activity has added much to it is mere “statistical coincidence.”

The third degree occurs when it is acknowledged that humanity has probably mucked things up, but then denies that anything effective can be done to alleviate or at least mitigate the problem. In other words, after admitting the problem, deciding to capitulate to pessimism.

The fourth stage happens when whatever effective measures might be taken are seen as costing too much — this despite the predictions by economists that attempts to fix the problems later on instead of now will be immensely more costly.

I think, however, that there is a fifth and final stage in the denial process. It is reached when however costly it might be, people refuse to take on the ethical or moral responsibility to do what has to be done to try to insure the future well-being of humanity.

It is hard to say exactly what motivates this denial process at each and every stage, although it is probably safe to say that it begins with ignorance—perhaps of the willful type—and progresses, as awareness increases, especially when we get to the fifth stage, to outright selfishness.

No doubt various vested interests, both economic and political (and when have they not been closely intertwined, especially in our capitalistic society?) have deliberately promoted the first stages of this process. In fact, vast amounts of money have been spent to deliberately mislead the public.

The question is then, can these same economic-political interests be persuaded to plan far ahead enough, even if only for their own well-being, to change course and begin to promote a more environmentally sustainable future?

Fortunately, there has been some signs as of late, that some of the really big corporations—those whose annual earnings in many cases outstrip the GNP of even some of the smaller nations—have begun to look ahead and have become alarmed enough to start to seriously rethink their plans for their future. The question is, however, whether these leaders in the economic world and their political allies can change the climate of public opinion enough to persuade consumers that there is a viable alternative to what could otherwise turn into a doomsday scenario?

     This last point, I think, is particularly important. Scientists, philosophers, and even religious leaders may argue and even preach to the public about what needs to be done. But it is my guess that unless a real political will for change can be generated, the world will either slowly succumb to business as usual or else, when people finally realize what is happening, plunge themselves into a mood of stoic despair, deciding that in the face of certain death, they just might as well abandon all efforts to save themselves.


R W Kropf    (July 28, 2007)            07-07-28.html