Humans are known to be creative, analytical, and emotional beings - which is why it comes as no surprise that we deny reality. In the words of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud: "It is impossible to escape the impression that people here are guided by some deep moral conviction that the possibility of a climate change must be hidden from public view." This denial could be seen as an attempt to maintain an emotional security and a sense of comfort amidst the glaring reality of the costs of climate change.
Yet, this denial leaves us more vulnerable than ever before. By denying the Earth’s sensitivity and repercussions of climate change, humanity puts its physical and mental health at risk. While there are numerous potential challenges of avoiding the issue, the psychological effects are particularly concerning. Through the lens of psychology, denying the reality of the consequences of climate change can negatively alter our perception of the world, lead to anxiety, depression, and even worsen mental health conditions.
The first step in dealing with the psychological costs of climate change denial is trying to understand the root of the issue. One possible reason could be ‘cognitive dissonance’ — when beliefs, opinions, or behaviors are not in sync. As our environment has become increasingly dire, humans attempt to justify their contribution to climate change by engaging in cognitive dissonance. People would rather deny the consequences of unfettered fossil fuel use than face the reality that their behavior is causing the problem.
What lies at the heart of the climate change denial is the fear of losing control over our environment. We are afraid of having to face the responsibility that comes with the need to make and generate massive changes to our way of life. This fear stops us from taking the action needed to combat climate change, instead choosing to stay in the state of denial and ignorance.
The journey towards facing uncomfortable truths is a process but there are opportunities available to those who are willing to embark on it. Education is one route that provides an outlet for understanding the science behind climate change. Doing away with small myths regarding climate change allows for individuals to engage with it in an informed manner. Furthermore, learning about how certain experiences — like flooding, drought, and famine — have impacted us in our communities and how to respond can also provide context.
It is only when we are able to break down barriers of fear and embrace the nature of our changing climate can we begin to work together to address and mitigate its implications. And the sooner we start making strives forward the better. Until then, our inability to come to terms with the situation will leave us woefully exposed, both mentally and physically.
Although acknowledging climate change may be daunting, the time has come to accept it, rather than hiding behind the veil of denial. As the saying goes: “The truth will set you free.” If we are able to take the steps towards personal growth, we can begin to reduce the disastrous aftereffects of global warming. Only then will humanity's future be secure.
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