in search of eudaimonia…
Global warming is a phenomenon that is confirmed by an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence, provided by the majority of highly qualified and experienced climate scientists and many climate research institutes. However, it is also a phenomenon that is denied by many people, including politicians and policy-makers in powerful or influential positions. Denied, moreover, in terms that are sometimes vitriolic and vituperative, even threatening. There are many reasons indeed why such denial occurs, and there are many commentators who write very good articles, books and blogs about the phenomenon of climate change denial. But what I have noticed is that sometimes the defenders of the scientific consensus on climate change, myself included, sometimes have to be mindful of the danger of getting too sidetracked by the counter-denying of the deniers. Yes, the incorrect statements and distortions by the deniers of the facts about climate change need to be publicly pointed out and corrected, and this is a very worthy and essential task, but it is also one that can become all-consuming and even counter-productive if, in the process, those who defend the climate change consensus get ground down psychologically by the sheer effort of it all and, worse, get drawn into making negative attacks upon the deniers, or regarding the deniers as ‘enemies’ to be defeated. The deniers are, in the end, amongst the very people that we, out of compassion and loving-kindness, want to save from the horrifying effects of catastrophic climate change. The fact that they deny what is now so obvious is their right, after all; no one can insist that they must accept what scientists say. If they want to deny the facts, so be it. Indeed, the fact that they often feel the need to deny the facts with such vehemence should increase our compassion for them, not decrease it. The failure to accept empirical reality, even at the cost of one’s own best interests, is always immensely sad and tragic. Indeed, human beings often, perhaps usually, think and act against their own best interests. T.S.Eliot himself said that “human beings cannot bear too much reality”, and the reality of climate change, when it sinks in, is sometimes too hard for me to bear; the urge to just forget about it and think of something more pleasant and more immediately self-satisfying can become very tempting at such times.
But it is precisely at such times that I recall – sometimes – that the reality of climate change is also a supreme opportunity to generate true empathy with others, for thinking about the sufferings of those affected severely by climate change is such a powerful experience that compassion for such people naturally arises, and with that compassion comes a joyfully positive wish to be able to contribute in any way possible to the alleviation of such suffering and to prevent it happening to others too. It is then that the struggle to mitigate climate change can become a joyful struggle, full of meaning. Absorption in the flow of that struggle can create eudaimonia, something that positive psychology says is an essential constituent of a happy life. Martin Seligman says, in his book, Authentic Happiness, that “eudaimonia, what I call gratification, is part and parcel of right action. It cannot be derived from bodily pleasure, nor is it a state that can be chemically induced or attained by any shortcuts. It can only be had by activity consonant with noble purpose” (p.112). For me, and I’m sure for many others too, the immersion in the struggle to promote public awareness of climate change and to support the efforts to mitigate it, and adapt to it, is indeed a noble purpose, and potentially gratifying in profound ways. Whether we succeed or fail in the struggle is neither here nor there; the struggle is in itself a source of meaning and happiness, both for ourselves and countless others.
Besides, the reality of climate change impacting right now in the form of extreme weather events around the world, and the clear evidence of climate change accelerating even faster than the IPPC anticipated, because of ever more positive feedbacks kicking in, means that the focus should not be so much on denying the deniers, but more on pressing ahead with efforts to promote and implement the practical measures that can help mitigate climate change now, or can help us adapt to the consequences of climate change that are with us now. The reality is most deniers will not change their point of view no matter how much scientific evidence is placed before them, and any politician or policy-maker who does look dispassionately at the evidence will have more than enough evidence now on which to come to the decisions that are necessary if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. All that is needed now is the necessary political will and community mobilisation to get on with the job with whatever tools are available. The “fierce urgency of now” that Martin Luther King spoke of is as relevant to the challenge of transitioning to a zero-carbon society as it is to the challenge of ensuring equal civil rights for all.
- a positive side to global climate change? (andydharma.wordpress.com)
- Rebut a Climate Change Denier With These Simple Responses (treehugger.com)