Part 1: Why are we so slow to recognize the crisis of climate change?

November 6, 2019

Why is this country so slow at recognizing the crisis of climate change that is already showing its “scary face” in our country? Yes, I know there can be many answers to this question. There is the whole fossil fuel investment that is huge; there is the whole sense that we are somehow immune or protected from climate change’s effects – it’s happening somewhere else. (There have actually been studies that say our brains literally cannot cognize such disastrous events in the future.) There is always the whole area of consumerism, industrialization and the endless wanting more and better and bigger. And in a very real way, facing into this unique (never been before) crisis demands enormous change which can be both daunting and threaten our very existence.

But I’d like to speak or write about something else which is of another order related to our culture, our history, our narrative, our denial of reality and our denial of facing, what could be called, our shadow.

Speaking in very broad strokes – I’m not a historian – but I think about this question a lot – why are we so slow at recognizing the crisis we are in; it is a question that haunts me.

We are a young country and, in many ways, have benefited from that youth. Although initiated by a monarchy, we quickly felt the sense of freedom that comes from not having that whole structured hierarchical rule dominating us. We also inherited from our past, the ideals of freedom, equality and individuality from philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu. We inherited these ideals and built upon them a government, by the people, for the people and of the people. Of course, not wholly democratic, but still very new and unique and inspiring – an experiment – with a vast land, not ours, but which quickly became more and more our possession, our acquisition.

We also “inherited” the structure of slavery and elaborated upon that structure for our own needs – it was slavery and racism – a racism that also allowed us to relate to the Native Americans as “less than” us.

So ironically alongside these genuinely noble ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity – ideals also from the French Revolution – we also adopted slavery and that slavery persisted for over 200 years and even after the end of slavery in its gross form, we still have had extreme racism and inequality of race in this country.

As a country, we have never really faced this reality in a way that would have radically changed our consciousness and actions. I think it has conflicted too much with our basic simplistic narrative of being this noble experiment, founded by noble men – an experiment not only of democracy but of people who care about each other, about justice, about all those wholesome values of family, nation, and god. We have preserved, in reality, a very simple narrative and even though we have become more and more sophisticated and complex, that narrative has a strong hold on the psyche of this country. I can feel it even in myself at times. It’s like an imprint on one’s consciousness when very young that doesn’t completely – despite all the facts – dissolve. Like parallel universes that persist.

This denial of the horrors of our past, which includes more than slavery, but certainly slavery and racism stand out, I feel connects with our denial as a country of climate change. Climate change is too awful to let in; too horrendous; too devastating and it would mean a dramatic change in our actions and values.

If we face into climate change, we also have to face into how we have failed; how our basic thrust toward growth,  consumerism, what we call progress and capitalism now have to take a backseat because it is no longer serving us – to put it mildly – no, it is doing great damage to ourselves and more importantly to our whole living planet. We would have to face into the reality that we are a major contributor to this damage – not the only ones for sure – but a major one. How does this conflict with our simple narrative of being the “good guys?”

We prefer to live in a “fantasy” world; a world that wants to see itself, its actions, its history in only a positive light and believes in the “rightness” of who we have been and who we are now.

When are we going to crack this narrative to such a degree that we finally as a nation begin to face the reality of our past, present and what is looming in the future?

Part 11 – (to be continued) Cracks in the Narrative

4 Comments
    1. Dear Judy, you may not be an historian by profession, yet you have painted a very accurate historical picture of who we are, what we believe and from there how we got to this place. From this perspective we can understand why it is so challenging to shake up and shake off these deeply held beliefs. If our minds can not comprehend the immensity and our emotions are not ready to let go of our image, well then, we must use our intellect to discover the truth. We must read and listen to the experts who DO comprehend and follow their lead.
      Judy, I so appreciate your writing from this perspective and your full engagement in this fight. Let’s get together. I have some friends over here that I’d like to introduce you to.
      Love, Iris

      1. Thank you very much Iris and yes, it is so true, we do need to use our intellect and respect those experts who know what is happening. Would love to be introduced to your friends who are very engaged with this climate crisis. Thank you again, Love, Judy

    1. Thank you, Judy. This is such an important perspective on ourselves as a nation and our cultural ‘identity’, and the power this has over our collective actions. As you say, the reasons for our denial of the ecological crisis (and especially that of our government) is complex. And the degree this is tied to the whole western economic system, cannot be underestimated – so much investment in the way things are! As we know the the global north as a whole, has, and continues to benefit from this, but the deeper point you are making is critical, and I agree, a prior one. Our self image, as the ‘good guys’, the ‘leader of the free world’ etc goes a long way to distancing us from reality, and therefore from responding to that reality. It’s very similar in the UK, where our colonial history is largely seen as ‘past’ and actually ‘positive in many people’s minds. The moral issues are obscured behind this amnesia, and false self image, along with the responsibility we have to both the past and the future. Great essay! Thank you and look forward to our next discussion!
      Love, Mary

      1. Thank you dear Mary for your very thoughtful and very full response to my essay and a subject that you are also so immersed in. It’s true what you say that we cannot underestimate at all the power of our whole economic system and to add our whole reliance on fossil fuels for more than I think 100 years. I look forward to us talking together soon. Love, Judy

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