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The Psychology Of Climate Crisis Denial.

0 Heart it! Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury 30
May 29, 2018
Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury
0 Heart it! 30

Do you believe the earth is heating up?
Do you believe our climate has changed for the worse in the last few decades?
Do you believe our grandchildren will live in a worse climate than we do?
Do you believe climatic variation is one of the causes of extinction of several species?
Do you believe we, as humans, have contributed to the climatic changes?

If your answer to one or more of the questions above is ‘No’, then you are probably in what is known as climate crisis denial.

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that the climate crisis is no more a distant problem. It is approaching and increasing in pace. Then why don’t we talk about it as much as most of personal, professional or political problems? Why is there as much indifference and ignorance about the climate crisis that some call it a ‘hoax’ or a natural phenomenon? We have all heard about the vulnerability of the polar bear, the melting Arctic, and the ozone depletion. Why is there still disagreement on the climate crisis?

Climate Crisis Is a Test Of Phenotypic Plasticity
Most living species have evolved through rigorous adaptation. A phenotype refers to observable traits or characteristics of a living organism. The term ‘phenotypic plasticity’ can be simply explained as the flexibility to change phenotypes in response to variation in external conditions. Studies have shown that living organisms that were phenotypically plastic could survive and adapt to intense climatic changes. Organisms that were phenotypically inflexible eventually ceased to exist. There is a growing amount of debate to theorize the role of phenotypic plasticity in natural selection which is considered to be a basic mechanism of evolution. For example, humans in the present time are taller than humans of the past. The difference is believed to be a result of the change in diet that we have undergone and diet is an external, non-genetic factor. Climatic change will test the phenotypic plasticity of all species including humans.
Finite Thinking – The Pool of Worry
Environmental researchers Patricia Linville and Gregory Fischer coined the term “Pool of Worry” to explain why we consciously avoid talking about climate change. Human brains are filled with mundane worries that can be clubbed under S-I-P thoughts, or:  – Sudden   I – Immediate    P- Personal. For example, a temporary financial loss is likely to cause us more grief than a degree rise in temperature. We are unwilling to spend our mental energy on something that we cannot see or feel immediately. The consequences of climate change unfold gradually and we cannot perceive the cumulative impact all at once. Most of us cannot begin to imagine the consequence of this crisis and prefer to keep the thought of it away from our conscious sensory field.
The Crisis Denial
Humans tend to huddle in a bubble of comfort, a.k.a., the comfort zone. The consequences of the climate crisis is a bludgeoning blow to our intrapsychic balance or the underlying psychological relationship we have with ourselves – a direct threat to the comfort bubble. Thinking along the lines of how we are responsible for greenhouse emissions can evoke intense feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety – in other words, the feelings we deliberately try to avoid.

Confronting a crisis of this nature can trigger defense mechanisms like denial, displacement, and rationalization that make us either indifferent or deny responsibility. The California University Laboratory on Climate Crisis has found that simply accepting the responsibility of our everyday actions like using plastic bags, eating more red meat, or using aerosol sprays, can make us up to 50% more willing to step up and take action.


There is evidence that the amount of greenhouse gases such as Methane and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) that we let out in the atmosphere is a major contributing factor to the climate change. The cumulative effect of these gases emitted by human activity is massive. We lack awareness or choose to ignore such actions that are ingrained in our lifestyles. Beef consumption, for instance, has increased more than three times in the last three decades, and uses 40% of farmlands across the US. The cattle reared for the food industry are provided with heavy meals that make them burp Methane regularly and on a large scale. It is estimated that a cow on overage releases roughly 100 kg of Methane per year. The negative impact of a single molecule of Methane on the climate is around 23 times higher than a molecule of CO2. The impact of emitting 100 kg of Methane is thus equivalent to the impact of emitting 2,300 kg of CO2 per year – both equivalent to burning 1,000 litres of petrol, that can be used to drive roughly 12,500 km.
Confirmation Bias
Have you heard people argue that there is not enough proof of the climate crisis?

Peter Wilson, a pioneer in the field of cognitive dissonance, said that we develop confirmation bias since we are terrified to tolerate the cost of being off-base. We, as social beings, are naturally inclined to seek conformity in groups – like family, colleagues, friends, or political associations. Confirmation bias influences us to search for and highlight snippets of data that follow what the majority of people in these groups consent to. We aimlessly acknowledge what the group acknowledges, and reject what it does not. If an elected representative of a group says that global warming is a gimmick, many may consent.

The fear of being rejected or opposed by the group influences us to fit in with what it accepts or distrusts. Bias such as this distorts our cognitive balance and makes us pay less attention to available evidence in order to corroborate with the group. The climate crisis is enormous as far as its socio-economic and moral aspect is concerned – simply denying it can appear to be simpler.
To change the way we think and talk about the climate crisis we must accept that we are responsible for causing it. And we can do it by being –
Conscious – of actions
We need to learn about the negative impacts of our actions on the climate and consciously choose to develop environment friendly habits like using renewable energy resources.
Responsive – to the climatic changes
We need to get involved in activities that promote safeguarding the environment – sign petitions, join campaigns, and raise our voices to help slow down climate change.
Understanding – that we are causing it
This is not the time to avoid talking. Our tiny footsteps do matter in bringing about the change.
Empathetic – towards the environment
Empathy is the need of the hour. Let’s think of the environment as our home. Let’s react to climate change in the way we would react to damage to our houses. We need to try to internalize the suffering climate change has caused to species of the past to realize the impact in future. It is through empathy and understanding that we can overcome personal biases.
Loving – towards nature
The greatest of all human virtues is love. Saving the environment is not a political or a social fight, but a human one. We must nurture nature with love. There is no plan(et) B.

Thank You for reading.

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