Fear of death behind climate change denial

Profit and patriotism are the routes out of the climate crisis.

A paper by Cornell scientist Janis L. Dickinson is drawing new attention as an explanation for the rise in climate science denial.

(It's all explained by Zero Mostel in this classic episode of The Muppet Show.)

In The People Paradox, published last year at Ecology and Society, Dickinson follows up on Ernest Becker's 1973 work The Denial of Death, suggesting that when people are confronted by death they often react by shoring up their worldview, rejecting anyone or anything which threatens it, and focusing on self-esteem.

Paradoxically, this very human behavior actually brings death closer. One study in Israel showed that, among people for whom driving was a big component in their self-esteem, they actually drove faster and took more risks after being reminded of the possible consequences.

What this implies is that, even though Al Gore was right, the way he sold the climate crisis was wrong. Surveys indicate climate denialism is very much on the rise, and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence showing scientists who promote global warming theory feel under threat.

You can see it here at SmartPlanet. Just look at the comments on any post I or John Dodge writes about global warming.

While the scientific consensus behind global warming is increasing, and evidence of it is increasingly obvious in glaciers and global temperature rises, vitriolic denial is actually growing, and becoming more personal.

How should we respond?

My belief is that we focus on opportunity. There are enormous profits to be made in solar and wind energy, in smart grids and conservation. There are good national security reasons for wanting to wean ourselves from commodities that, even if we have them, are mainly controlled by our political enemies.

Profit and patriotism are the routes out of the climate crisis. Fear of death, and climate change is death on the grandest possible scale, is only turning conservatives into characters in the musical Cabaret. Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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