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Climate Change:  The Psychological, Political Or Moral Implications
That Conventionally Follow

By Bill Henderson

23 April, 2012

Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May, NDP environment critic Megan Leslie and Liberal environmental critic Kirsty Duncan should join together in non-partisan, high road, big picture leadership on climate change. They should ask Canadians: "Is climate change an emergency?" alerting to the best state of the art science, the scale of emission reduction necessary, and what is at stake for our children and grandchildren and our culpability. A report, a website, a series of op-eds and interviews. No need to mention the Conservatives.

Why?  Implicatory denial. 

Kari Marie Norgaard is a professor of sociology and environmental studies at the university of Oregon. Recently she delivered a paper, Climate change and cultural inertia (co-authored by Robert Brulle and Canadian Randolph Haluza-Delay) at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London.

Deniers in the press and blogsphere have had fun misunderstanding her paper , but the real story is that her work in this paper and in her recent book is as important a revelation about climate change (and you) as you are going to find this year.

In research for her book LIVING IN DENIAL: Climate change, emotions and everyday life ,  Dr. Norgaard studied the attitudes to climate change in rural Norway. Most people were well educated and informed - like Canada - but she found a very curious type of climate denial affected most of the populace - again very much like Canada.  The Norwegians weren't skeptical per se, they were informed, understood and accepted climate change science, but lived sort of a schizo double life where they didn't let their climate knowledge effect their lives in any way.

They didn't have literal or interpretive denial but what Stanley Cohen termed implicatory denial: In the case of implicatory denial, what is minimized is not information, but  “ the psychological, political or moral implications that conventionally follow ”.

Like many/most Canadians, the Norwegians Norgaard studied knew the science but didn't allow this knowledge to effect their lives and did nothing. Furthermore she found that there exists a social organization of denial: "the process by which individuals collectively distance themselves from information because of norms of emotion, conversation, and attention and by which they use an existing cultural repertoire of strategies in the process" so that this touchy subject never has to be taken seriously.

The IEA in a recent report stated that we are on an emission trajectory leading to a 6C temperature increase by the end of the century. That's death for everything we know and love.

There is a growing science literature on the implications of a 4C rise in global mean temperature; for example Kevin Anderson predicts that a 4C temp rise expected by as soon as 2060 will lead to the premature death of 9 out of 10 people then alive globally.

2C - the precautionary ceiling signed on to by Canada as part of the Copenhagen Accord - is now regarded as deep into extremely dangerous climate change : tipping points (melting permafrost, for example), species loss, ocean acidification, extreme weather, etc. And - key point, admit it - emission reduction of a scale needed to stay under 2C is now impossible at this late date, after at least two wasted decades.

" So this is where we're at: stuck between temperatures we can't possibly accommodate and carbon reduction pathways we can't possibly achieve."

“If you understand this evidence, what are you doing with your life?”

Informed Norwegians, Americans, Canadians know this science but live in a weird double life where a protective denial keeps us from acting, keeps us supporting increasing fossil fuel use to protect our economic security while contributing to the destruction of all we know and love.

There is so much state of the art science strongly suggesting climate change is an emergency but it isn't just the deniers (flatearth and paid) that  refuse to treat climate and emission reduction with proper concern:

"We find a profound misfit between dire scientific predictions of ongoing and future climate changes and scientific assessments of needed emissions reductions on the one hand, and weak political, social or policy response on the other," Norgaard said . Serious discussions about solutions, she added, are mired in cultural inertia "that exists across spheres of the individual, social interaction, culture and institutions."   

"Climate change poses a massive threat to our present social, economic and political order. From a sociological perspective, resistance to change is to be expected....People are individually and collectively habituated to the ways we act and think. This habituation must be recognized and simultaneously addressed at the individual, cultural and societal level ­ how we think the world works and how we think it should work."

Denial is to be expected. Get past it if you want a future for your kids. There are solutions - we just haven't taken climate change seriously yet.

Implicatory denial. This is why it is so important for people who know and who are in a position to show leadership like May, Leslie and Duncan to take climate change seriously. The social organization of denial and implicatory denial can be overcome.

Literal denial - carbon dioxide is good for plants and is not the danger posed by leftist catastrophists such as like David Suzuki and Paul Krugman - isn't reasonable and won't be overcome by just affirming the science.

Interpretive denial - we can adapt, we have to use fossil fuels, and there is nothing Canadians can do anyway - is equally slippery. How cavalier to not connect the dots between how we continue to benefit staying in default mode and our culpability in creating hell on Earth for our descendents. How convenient. What a man of the world.

But implicatory denial can be overcome. Presently we stifle guilt and fear while ENGOs ludicrously mis-educate giving BC a 'very good' ranking for climate action , for example, even though BC's emission reduction targets are woefully inadequate and not being achieved and even though BC is committing crimes against humanity by increasing fossil fuel production and export.

But if those that do know the danger speak up, real change and real climate mitigation can become possible. If May and co (or others in a position to lead) open the door, it should be possible to get those who are knowledgeable and reasonable in BC's political parties in a room together to confront the dire scientific predictions of ongoing and future climate changes and scientific assessments of needed emissions reductions. We could then see seismic change in BC.

Think about it. Climate change isn't going away - with increasing emissions it can only get worse. Sooner rather than later we are going to have to wake up and recognize the emergency and our culpability. Better sooner than too late.

Bill Henderson is a frequent contributor to Countercurrents on Climate Change


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