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Climate Change Experts And Activists Might Be In Denial Too

By Steffen Böhm, University of Essex and Aanka Batta, University of Essex Another month, another important UN climate change conference. The latest is in Lima, the capital of Peru. Thousands of experts from the world of politics, business, academia and civil society – and Leonardo DiCaprio – have flown around the world to urge us all to curb our carbon emissions. Recent meetings have failed to make significant progress. Yet, this year there are high hopes that the US-China climate deal and the New York UN Climate Summit will allow Lima to provide a stepping stone for a binding emissions agreement at next year’s meeting in Paris. However, even if a deal can be reached – despite the urgent need for it – there is no guarantee that global greenhouse gas emissions will actually come down significantly and dangerous climate change can be averted. Psychoanalytic theory provides disturbing insights into why this may be so – and it is all to do with the split psychological make-up of those who work at the forefront of climate science, policy and activism. Climate denial can be unconscious For at least a century, psychoanalysis has taught us that we might be consciously thinking and saying one thing, but unconsciously doing another. In this context that means people are very consciously aware of the threats posed by climate change, even if they aren’t doing too much about it. Not a week goes by without the media showing catastrophic images of environmental damage and social suffering seemingly caused by a changing climate. Research suggests that such threats lead us to adopt various unconscious coping and defense mechanisms. Many people try to keep the catastrophe at bay or deny it is happening. Vested interests such as the Koch brothers in the US and other conservative forces have cleverly exploited this unconscious response by supporting a small group of scientists, politicians and think tanks to spread the message of climate skepticism and denial. This stuff works. Climate denial is undoubtedly on the rise, particularly in those media-saturated markets of North America, Europe and Australia. The Kochs and others are clearly filling a psychological void. Research has also shown that “people want to protect themselves a little bit”, particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty. If climate change simply isn’t happening, there’s nothing to worry about. More via Science20.

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