Doug Carmichael provides additional thoughts in response to the recently published article The Climate Change Challenge and Barriers to the Exercise of Foresight Intelligence in BioScience by Lee Ross et al. You can find the full article in the MAHB Library.
First, the stress on denial implies that people are acting irrationally, implying that they are bad actors in the response to the climate challenge. The problem is not with consumption, which is fairly tactical and easy to change, the problem is with income. People cannot imagine what would happen if they lost their job. We need much more awareness of the economic circumstances of most people. Their choice to not change is not denial, it is the choice of a reasonable path given the lack of meaningful alternatives for income. This is much more threatening than changes in consumption. You can see this when we realize that consumption changes could be legislated, but changing income? Much harder to imagine any result that could be achieved through legislation.
It is not irrational to stay in a leaky canoe if you have no other. We must work harder to imagine the economic position people are in. Surrounded by disaster perspectives, which I think most understand quite well, in all classes of society, from top mangers to the deeply disenfranchised unemployed, they cannot see a path forward.
At the upper end of society I think most agree our current situation is bad, but they also think it will end badly. They make the following argument: better to keep going for another fifteen or twenty years and then collapse than to try to change it now and collapse now.
Foresight intelligence is a good workable phrase, but we are off to a bad start if we assume that people lack it and are in denial. Sure, there are some such people, but we cannot expect people to shift behavior in say consumption when any local action they know does not add up to a sufficiently large scale effect, and they have to work within these given limits of their place of living, and the income they now earn. People are aware of the needed scale and can’t see how to get there. That goes for leaders as well. Reading history suggests that major changes in social structure involve huge losses, all measures of assets basically disintegrate, wars follow quickly.
When I say consumerism is easier to change than employment I mean most consumerism is tied to jobs: computer, commuting, clothing, choice of neighborhood, education. By tactical I mean, if there was a closer job, driving goes down. A more community based workplace, clothing costs would go down, and so on. But to suggest that a person should just change consumption, say by moving to public transportation, is to fail to empathize with or even perceive the problem of extra time and family disruption, especially if there are children. Moreover most suggested changes in consumption cost jobs, rapidly. Obviously less consumption means less producers of what is no longer consumed. We must be able to imagine such a world and then figure out how to invite people to it, or help them out if they are pushed to it.
Behavioral economics and the idea of irrationality are way too thin culturally and psychologically to help us far in understanding the depth of crisis and the scope of change. We need to give people credit and dignity by seeing that their choices make sense given alternatives, and that we need new alternatives and a way to get to them.
The full article by Lee Ross et al. is accessible here through the MAHB Library.