What is bleaker than the climate crisis?
Almost 30 years ago, when I was just beginning to consciously learn (which, in big part, also meant unlearning the wrong things that I have previously learned) that everything and everyone in nature is connected, among the first things that really struck me was why eating meat was leading us into a planetary mess. Now, based on the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), headlines around the world are flashing "Eat Less Meat" to stop this head-on trajectory to irreversible changes to the planet. But why is this news? This was textbook knowledge decades ago.
We humans knew this then. We elevated it to an intergovernmental panel in 1988 to get our politics aligned across countries so we can orchestrate an intercontinental response. But we did not respond then and we are still not responding now. We all get scared, get momentarily stunned, lapse into our old ways and somehow find a way to find hope at least for the day so we could go on. We are as self-destructive as we are optimistic about our future. In fact, one of the things we have an enormous surplus of as humans is our capacity to generate our own ironies. If only ironies could be a substitute to fossil fuel, we would have solved the climate crisis in a snap.
The science behind the climate crisis is solid and robust. All the IPCC reports even list down the things that we have to do to help stop or even reverse the climate crisis: no coal plants, go solar, ride bikes, use electric vehicles, stop cutting more trees, plant more trees, prevent food wastes, consume less products, eat less meat. But we are still generally on a planetary stupor. We can think of so many reasons why we are not making progress in solving the climate crisis. One of them, I think, is because the science is incomplete.
By incomplete, I refer not to the science behind the climate crisis. That is very well studied, with solid data to back it up across time. I refer to the science behind human response. Parallel to the IPCC reports, I think that another intergovernmental report should also exist to lay out the scientific terrain (behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience) that gives us insights about human behavior – individual and collective – that are relevant to what it takes for ironic species like us to understand, connect, and positively respond to the climate crisis.
There are connected "mountains" to overcome in the terrain of human behavior related to the climate crisis. I can spot a couple for this column.
One mountain is the "Language Mountain." Language is one of the most amazing things that humans have developed that help us conceptualize reality because we cannot literally bring reality with us and share it with others. We use language to describe, explain, and express it to others. But around the world, we have given birth to so many languages which have, over time, been shaped by natural conditions in the breeding places of those languages as well as by the interactions of people in those areas. We have also developed "guild languages" that we now term as "jargon" – languages that are so specialized that they either are known to only the ones trained in that profession, or those words that take on completely different meanings in the context of specific professions. Climate is panahon in our language. But panahon is also weather, time, and season. Depression is a rock bottom financial season in economics. It is a low pressure area in atmospheric science. It is also a mental condition in medical science. What sway of eloquence do we employ to scale the Language Mountain of the climate crisis?
A connected mountain is what I call "Lazy Mountain." Our brains are naturally wired to find the easiest way to make sense of something. Try running the gist of the IPCC report, replete with scientific data, by the average human. Most likely, he or she will lapse into a confirmation or a denial based on his or her own experience and not on the enormous amount of relevant data that supports the existence of the climate crisis. A lot of data that also requires a lot of prerequisite knowledge (physics, ecology, statistics) to understand is not easy. Our brains "default" mode is "easy" because it gets tired. When something is not easy, we grasp what is easier to understand, as well as our own personal experiences, which we value more, are tied to our self-identity, and are a lot easier to grasp. If our own experiences do not confirm the climate crisis, then it must not be true. What rousing creative format can we build to rope our way over the Lazy Mountain of the climate crisis?
A third mountain is the "Lying Mountain." Experiments have shown that in the face of incontrovertible data that would require us to change, we would rather lie than change ourselves or our ways. The incontrovertible data behind the climate crisis shows that there is no way we can continue with coal plants, develop more concrete jungles, eat meat in these proportions, and still have a livable planet. But if we really take those seriously, then we have to swallow personal realities. These may include our own family business and feasting traditions, personal investments, employment, company's financial prestige in coal plants and business-as-usual real estate and agriculture business which are major causes of the climate crisis. In the face of this disconnect, we humans generally simply justify our own actions – whether it is investing in a coal plant or in another development that takes over a forest, beach or lake, or even when we take our friends and families to meat-heavy all-you-can-eat buffets. What gentle but effacing stroke can we give each other to pivot ourselves away from the Lying Mountain of the climate crisis?
I just do not think the science behind the planetary crisis is complete if we only lay out the science behind the climate crisis. This is a crisis calling for the only species who could deliberately act and turn the tide. It has to include the science of human response, so we equally need a global report that also calls us out on what to look out for within our own human nature. Only if we are aware of the mental hurdles within our own individual selves, our own nation, even in our own company culture and family traditions, could we eyeball with this crisis. Only then could we meet it with a response that could match its crisis proportion. Only then can we get it right and deserve to be called "parents" that are passing on this planet to our children. – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at email@example.com.