Using a conventional model of cause and effect, we act as though climate science denial were the primary obstacle to action. Following that model, we foster understanding of facts, hoping that action will follow.
But it turns out that the relationship between denial and inaction is circular, not linear. Inaction is both an effect and a cause of denial.
I often come back to the most illuminating result we ever got in a focus group, from the woman who said to us, “I don’t think climate change is a big issue, because nobody’s doing anything about it.” She made the eminently logical inference that if it were really as bad as all that, the responsible authorities would be doing something.
This is roughly the logic I used to cope with the election of 2000. I remember thinking: “The election can’t have been stolen. I don’t even want to look at the evidence for that, because if it were true, then we would be in open revolt. And we’re not, and it’s not my job to declare a revolt. So it must be ok.” Did I really believe that, on the basis of looking at the evidence and arriving at a conclusion? Of course not. I refused to look at the evidence, because in the absence of collective will to deal responsibly with the implications of any other conclusion, I just couldn’t handle it.
The only thing that would have overcome my denial was engaging in a serious effort to deal responsibly with the consequences of a stolen election. I needed a mode and a culture of responsibility to be a part of, and I didn’t see one. (It was there, of course. It just didn’t seem very robust, or scaled to the challenge. Besides, denial was a lot easier, and it seemed to be working for everyone else, and I had this other big, scary, intractable reality on my hands.)
But there is an emerging culture of responsibility for climate solutions. It’s everywhere. It rocks. You can build it, today. You don’t have to extinguish denial first. It’s not like a 12 step process, where you have to get all the way through step 1 before beginning steps 2-12. Fully having the problem may not be possible until we get real about solving it. I know, it sounds like a Catch-22. Just start. Ask questions later.
So this feature in GRIP will focus both on exposing our own role in denial, and celebrating the growing profusion of a culture of responsibility. Our global and national institutions don’t seem to be up to the task, but in communities everywhere, people are finding ways to just do solutions. Their efforts are delivering more than carbon reduction, more than the many economic, environmental, and social “co-benefits” of solutions. They are defying and disrupting the ecosystem of denial. They are making it more possible to believe that the problem and the solutions are real.
Will this growing, distributed uprising of solutions “add up” to carbon reduction at scale? No. But it can multiply up. It will help reverse the vicious circle of denial and inaction, turning it into a virtuous circle of responsibility and solutions. Each action will make every other action more plausible, more likely, more hopeful. And if we can build a fully functioning culture of responsibility, it just might make what’s necessary seem possible.
More to come.