Psychological barriers behind climate change denial and indifference

Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash

In 2020, your ears are likely bursting with the scientific reasoning and emotional stories behind climate change. Whether you turn that into a mental picture of a world plunging into disaster or a world that’s overreacting, an important process that you are perhaps overlooking is how you came to form that picture in between those ears.

To dwell on how your brain is handling the climate change crisis may seem a waste of time when we should be focusing on, well, saving the world as EVAS puts it. Yet, to ensure we are pushing towards environmental progress in the most effective manner ourselves and to convince others to do the same, evaluating that mental processing is a vital first step to do so. It could be worth checking whether you’re experiencing any of these obstacles to an environmental mindset in your own noggin or whether others around you are experiencing any of these obstacles for you to help overcome.

Photo by ANGELA BENITO on Unsplash

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological conflict between one’s action(s) and their beliefs towards that action. According to Cognitive Dissonance theory, to hold our attitudes and behaviors in congruence we attempt reconciliation between them by changing our actions, attitudes, and/or our perception of our actions.

The conflict: Science continually points to the negative consequences that are coming from climate change—I don’t want this. However, I participate in many of its causes. 

Here’s some of the most common changes we make to resolve this conflict in our minds—whether they’re effective or not.

Attitudes

Perspective on actions

Actions

Climate change denial

Incoming technology will save us, right?

We should just focus on producing more wealth that will protect us when climate change’s consequences start getting to me.

We’re doing enough given our time- life keeps me too busy to uphold conservation.

We’re doing enough by only focusing on self-improvement since policy change is ineffective anyway.

Reducing and reusing

Environmental volunteering

Shifting power towards those who prioritize the world’s well-being


As is perhaps obvious, the most ecologically beneficial way to combat dissonance is through a wide range of action. Depending on how far along you are in making environmental progress, you may start with simple eco-friendly changes like you’ve been reading about so far in our blog or move on to addressing ideological obstacles in our society through political participation.

Apathy

When all we hear about are glaciers and polar bears, climate change-induced natural disasters that are far from us, and inaccessible sustainable solutions, it becomes easy to leave environmentalism to those who seem more equipped or knowledgeable for the job. In reality, climate change touches all of our lives whether we’re on a coast experiencing sea-level rise, surrounded by rural fields suffering from unpredictable weather patterns, in a city at risk of urban flooding, or wherever we may be. If you’re reading this article, there is plenty of environmental educational material at your fingertips to figure out which sustainable solutions are accessible to you right now and in the future. Many are more accessible in the long run than they seem as they save resources... which saves money in turn.

Photo by Sara Bakhshi on Unsplash

Fear 

Then again, perhaps you’re experiencing the opposite problem, where all the fearful news and costs of humanity’s impact on the Earth seem both so looming but also so unfixable. It is in these scenarios where we may zone out or become numb to the rapidly incoming crises to preserve our sanity. This is where a refocus is helpful. Many environmental changes, while they may come with costs, have side or additional benefits  that are less overwhelming to work towards. Sustainable agriculture and eating habits, for example, also happen to be healthy goals for that New Years resolution you might have made. (Whoops, is it February already?) Reducing our food waste and eating out is a significant money saver. New energy-efficient technologies can also be new jobs. Approaching eco-friendly progress as ways to reach other goals in your daily life and then recording that progress to look back on can help minimize the uncertainty and stress you may experience when deciding how to tackle a larger issue.

Which of these mental obstacles can you or have you related to or seen around you? Are there some that we’ve missed? 

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