Why is it so hard to rouse people to action on climate change?

As recent posts have pointed out, the evidence of climate warming is everywhere and people are worried. Why are they not taking to the streets, then? I offer these three reasons from my reading and conversation. The first is a poem by Jean Hirschfield, titled “Global Warming.”

When his ship first came to Australia,
Cook wrote, the natives
Continued fishing, without looking up
Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be

Is that our problem? Shouldn’t we have developed ways to confront the unimaginable in the last few hundred years?

The second comes from an article on Alternet.org by George Monbiot, first published in the Guardian (U.K.), about “the remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature,” which he calls “The Great Environmental Crisis No One Is Talking About.” After listing the latest news about loss of British songbirds and threats to certain popular tree species like ash, oaks, pines, and chestnuts,  the author asks,

So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected . . .  few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

After tracing some of the causes for children spending more and more time indoors and citing studies that show a correlation between outdoor play or time spent in wild places and enhanced creativity and ability to focus (ADHD drops when children are outdoors in green spaces compared to concrete playgrounds, for example), he gets to the environmental crisis of his title:

Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection.

The third reason is anecdotal, without much evidence so far. A friend who teaches first-year writing at a local university said she has read two recent papers in which the students say they are burned out on the environment, having been made to feel that it’s their responsibility, and it’s  overwhelming, so they distract themselves. They try to shut out the news of systems collapse and species extinction, for it’s terrifying to read the news presented in terms of a catastrophe that is not that far off.

What do you think explains why environmental leaders have to work so hard to create a truly mass movement to fight carbon pollution? In the meantime, get those kids outdoors and into the woods!



One response to “Why is it so hard to rouse people to action on climate change?

  1. Dear Dr. Frus,

    Thank you for bringing up this important facet of climate change action!

    I think all the points you made in this post are valid and do play into things. I especially like the point about not being outside; why would you care about something if you didn’t know what it was? I know that line of thinking as the Marineworld “dolphins are needed in captivity” argument.

    I also want to add the Bystander Effect (there are so many of us around here that someone else must be taking care of it), and the anger and despair I feel at times towards both previous generations whom I see as having trashed the place and the people living now who don’t do anything about it. The former “releases” people from responsiblity in their own minds, and the latter personally saps my energy to affect more change.

    I would love to learn more of your and others’ thoughts on this matter and see how I can incorporate them into my own actions and communication.

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