By Troy Headrick
Earlier this month, I posted a “question of the day” in which I asked readers to reflect upon the biggest challenge facing humanity. I got an overwhelming number of responses and am still in the process of responding to all those who left comments.
In thinking about how I might answer such a query, I was torn between two possible responses: the paucity of critical thinking skills among those who inhabit the planet and climate change and its threat to human life and the things we hold dear.
I’ve written a lot about critical thinking and its importance on this blog, so today, I’d like to share a few thoughts about climate change, especially why I think, from a psychological point of view, it’s going to be hard to get most humans to see climate change as the existential problem it is and to buy into any sort of meaningful solution.
An examination of how my life has changed and what’s taken place in my own family can be instructive in understanding why most people find it hard to see climate change as an issue that needs addressing.
When I was a child, I lived with grandparents who felt a very tangible connection to the natural world because they were ranchers. Plus, a large number of my uncles and aunts similarly made their living either by raising and selling animals or raising and selling crops. These family members lived in rural settings and were attuned to the cycles and rhythms of nature. When there were droughts, my family members looked at the skies and worried. When it rained too much, they looked at the skies and shook their heads in consternation and disbelief. They spent hours per day outside and felt no sort of disconnect with the natural world.
My grandparents are dead now as are several of my farmer and rancher aunts and uncles. I, like my many cousins, live in large cities and have become very urbanized. I count myself lucky because I grew up very much connected with nature even if I have become relatively estranged from it in recent decades.
Urbanization is not confined to me and my family members. In fact, Hannah Ritchie and Max Rosen, in “Urbanization,” published on the ourworldindata.org website, point out that people are rapidly becoming more urbanized and that “urban settings are a relatively new phenomenon human history. This transition [away from rural settings and agricultural lifestyles] has transformed the way we live, work, travel, and build networks.
I’d go a step further and say that urbanization is changing the way we think, including the way we think about our relationship with the natural world.
As we move away from our agricultural past, we lose the understanding and visceral connection to nature. A growing number of people in all parts of the world now see a duality: There is the human world and the natural world. To my grandparents and to all those who “lived off the land,” no such duality existed. Human beings and their activities and dreams took place within nature. Changes in the natural world, therefore, had, in their view, a profound impact on human life. Thus, they paid attention to climate changes and weather patterns and such because their lives and livelihoods depended on it.
As we have become more divorced from nature and as traditional farming and ranching has become more and more a thing of the past, we find ourselves more willing to exploit or ignore nature because we no longer feel a deep connection to it. We trash our world (pun intended) because we think we somehow live apart from nature rather than a part of it. We are killing ourselves because we are killing the planet, but far too many of us don’t realize how suicidal our actions are.
Until more of us can find a way to get beyond of the duality I spoke of, I see little chance that we can do anything other than abuse nature and thus destroy ourselves.
Thanks for reading.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.