Quantcast

How Can We Comprehend the Climate Crisis?

Climate
The earth's warming is not immediate, but gradual, and without a direct or immediate impact on our everyday actions. wildpixel / Getty Images

By Gero Rueter

The science is clear. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the same rate we have been doing for the past decades, 80 years from now, our planet will be at least four degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels.


"And the warming won't stop there," climate researcher and oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf told DW. "It will continue to rise to seven or eight degrees over the next 100 years. Human civilization won't survive that."

Normally, we respond to danger quickly; we put out fires, run away when we feel at risk, and protect our children in every way we can. So why are people so slow to react to the existential threat of global warming?

"In evolutionary terms, we are not built for this kind of danger," explains Andreas Ernst, Professor of Environmental Systems Analysis and Environmental Psychology at the University of Kassel. "We react to a rustling in the bushes with lightning speed. But the threat posed by climate change is abstract."

The earth's warming is not immediate, but gradual, and without a direct or immediate impact on our everyday actions, Ernst says the complex correlations are hard for us to grasp.

Figures Remain Incomprehensible

Although the findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are unambiguous, many laypeople, as well as politicians, find their details hard to understand. This can impact the implementation of recommendations. Such, at least, is the conclusion reached by an international team of researchers who analyzed the IPCC reports.

Many struggle to picture a ton of the greenhouse gas CO2. Such figures "don't really reach the human psyche," Ernst said.

Yet dealing with CO2 is essential in the climate crisis, because the more greenhouse gases there are in the air, the faster the earth warms up. CO2 is mainly produced by the burning of oil, coal and natural gas. In order to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees, CO2 emissions need to be reduced as quickly as possible, and neutralized no later than 2050. In order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, however, the world would have to become climate-neutral even sooner.

Christoph Nikendei, psychotraumatology expert at University Hospital in the southern German city of Heidelberg says it's important to use easy-to-understand figures, and to address the emotional brain so that climate change can become a real and tangible part of life.

How Many Trees Need to Grow to Compensate for My Flight?

To stay with that example: One ton of CO2 is produced, for example, by burning 422 liters (111 gallons) of gasoline, which would allow a car to travel an average of 5,400 kilometers (3,355 miles).

Conversely, plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. This enables them to grow. A beech tree, for example, takes in around 12.5 kg of CO2 per year. That means a single ton of CO2 corresponds to the annual growth of 80 beech trees.

If we compare the CO2 emitted and absorbed, we can calculate how many trees are needed to compensate for a certain distance traveled by car, and which means of transport "consumes" the least amount of tree growth.

For example, 20 beech trees would have to grow for one year to offset a 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) journey with a combustion engine. For 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of air travel, it would take 33 beech trees per person. The same distance traveled by train would equate to the growth of just one beech tree.

Collective Behavior: Silence and Repression

Another obstacle to tackling the climate crisis is repression, which is a very common psychological protection mechanism.

"People don't want to hear how bad things are, so they push it away. Smokers also do this when confronted with the consequences of their behavior," Ernst said, adding that many who don't want to deal with the climate issue, look away and leave it for others to solve.

Nikendei sees this behavior as a collective pattern of action: a collective social norm of silence, and likens the reluctance to acknowledge the climate crisis to the social taboos of aging, illness and death.

Rejection and Paralysis Can Be Overcome

Nikendei regards it as the role of psychologists to acknowledge this collective rejection and the emotions associated with it while simultaneously assisting the necessary change in values. This includes mourning the end of the fossil fuel era, recognizing one's own involvement in climate change and a shift in values towards cooperation over competition.

Excessive behavior in society needs to be replaced by more sharing, repairing and preserving, the psychotrauma expert says. Reconnecting with nature is also important. In pursuing this approach, he believes psychologists can help people to cope with the climate crisis and overcome feelings of fear, paralysis and helplessness.

More than a thousand psychologists and psychotherapists in Europe are trying to do just that with the Psychologists for Future network, says co-initiator Lea Dohm. "Our campaign has struck a nerve. Lots of people from all walks of life want our help in tackling the climate crisis."

Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
EcoWatch joins Fabien Cousteau to remove marine debris in the Florida Keys and talk about the future of the oceans. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels

Much of what we've been able to learn about the underwater world has built on the legacy of underwater explorer and pioneer Jacques Yves Cousteau. In 1943, Cousteau invented the aqua-lung, which completed his self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA). This technology forever changed how humans interact with the blue world and remains the precursor of modern-day scuba diving equipment.

Read More Show Less
A humpback whale, one of the species affected by the Pacific marine heat wave, breaches in Kenai Fjords National Park in the Gulf of Alaska. Kaitlin Thoreson / National Park Service

By Hannah Thomasy

From 2014 to 2016, the Gulf of Alaska experienced the worst marine heat wave of the decade. From single-celled organisms to top predators, practically no level of the ecosystem was left unscathed. During the Pacific marine heat wave, tens of thousands of dead seabirds washed up on beaches, unusually low numbers of humpback whales arrived in their summer habitats, and toxic algal blooms spread along the West Coast of North America.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Fire in one part of a community can contaminate the water system used by other residents, as Santa Rosa, California, discovered after the Tubbs Fire. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

By Andrew J. Whelton

More than 58,000 fires scorched the United States last year, and 2021 is on track to be even drier. What many people don't realize is that these wildfires can do lasting damage beyond the reach of the flames – they can contaminate entire drinking water systems with carcinogens that last for months after the blaze. That water flows to homes, contaminating the plumbing, too.

Over the past four years, wildfires have contaminated drinking water distribution networks and building plumbing for more than 240,000 people.

Read More Show Less
The new greenhouse will accelerate Lufa's mission to grow food. Lufa

By Sean Fleming

  • The world's largest rooftop greenhouse is in Montreal, Canada.
  • It measures more than 15,000m2 and produces more than 11,000kg of food per week.
  • The company behind it had to hire 200 new employees due to pandemic-driven demand.

Can you grow enough produce for an entire city in rooftop greenhouses? Two entrepreneurs in Montreal, Canada, believe it might be possible.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Environmental activists carry a large snake pipeline as they protest against the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline on May 7, 2021 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

From fake oil spills in Washington, D.C. and New York City to a "people mural" in Seattle spelling out "Defund Line 3," climate and Indigenous protesters in 50 U.S. cities and across seven other countries spanning four continents took to the streets on Friday for a day of action pushing 20 banks to ditch the controversial tar sands pipeline.

Read More Show Less