The other night, I watched the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up. The plot involves an astronomer and his student who go on a media tour to tell everyone that a comet is scheduled to hit and destroy the planet in six months. (Warning: I’m going to give away the ending.)
In the movie, a significant number of people don’t believe the science is accurate. Various scientists at prestigious institutions challenge the astronomers’ conclusions. Elected leaders avoid dealing with the threat and instead argue over culture war issues.
In the end, various political forces prevent the implementation of a plan to blow up the comet before it reaches Earth. The final scene in the movie is the awareness that we humans had it all—but this realization only occurs when the comet strikes.
The movie is a satire about how scientific facts are denied and then politicized by leaders and how crippling inaction succeeds in using up our window of opportunity until it is too late to act. I found the movie to be an obvious metaphor for climate change.
Some people doubt global warming is even real. Or they believe that if it is real, the point at which we’ll be affected is so far off that we don’t have to worry about it.
But even those who believe it might affect them might have a hard time making significant lifestyle changes. That’s because of how we humans are wired.
Short-term benefits outweigh long-term benefits. For example, some young people may think, “Why save for retirement? There’s no certainty we will even have a retirement.”
The future is uncertain. Many people believe we should enjoy ourselves today. Even the Bible confirms this perspective in Isaiah 22:13: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
The term “nonlinear threats” describes threats that aren’t measurable and therefore don’t seem real. In contrast, here’s an example of a linear threat: If I spend twenty-five dollars a day on eating out for lunch during the workweek, I would be spending $125 a week that I could be putting in savings if I brought my lunch to work instead. My lunch expenses are killing my retirement savings plan. This is a linear threat because I can measure the impact.
In contrast, a nonlinear threat isn’t measurable until it is too late. For example, a person smokes a dozen or so cigarettes daily, and it has no obvious negative impact. The person is not aware of any threat to his or her health. But one day, the person is diagnosed with lung cancer. The cancer was developing over time, but it was not taken into account because it was invisible.
Global warming is a nonlinear threat.
The construal level theory also describes how we humans distance ourselves from disasters. Events such as floods, fires, and crop-destroying heat waves happen to other people—not to us!
But there are other reasons we are ignoring climate change:
- We make excuses. For instance, I need air-conditioning because I’m old and the heat is brutal. Everybody else is using air-conditioning. Why should I go without?
- We deny reality. The science could be wrong.
- Our identities and lifestyles are intertwined. For example, I drive a Lexus that only gets twelve miles to the gallon, but I deserve a luxury car. I’m a successful person.
- We feel that our efforts won’t change anything. We are powerless to solve a global problem.
- We don’t get anything for making sacrifices. There’s nothing in it for us.
For those beyond the point of making excuses, here’s a list of ten actionable steps recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme:
- Spread the word! Click here or here to learn about global movements your can join.
- Keep up the political pressure.
- Transform your transport.
- Rein in your power use.
- Tweak your diet; eat more plant-based meals.
- Purchase locally grown food.
- Don’t waste food.
- Use and reuse clothes.
- Plant trees.
Invest in planet-friendly companies and energy renewables.
Most of these actions are steps I can take. What about you?
(Cover photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann)