Climate change and human nature
Sir, – John Gibbons argues that a “profound disconnect between politics and reality” is fatally delaying our response to climate change (“Window for saving Earth from ecological annihilation closing”, Opinion & Analysis, November 5th).
Keeping our attention on environmental problems is immensely difficult. Human consciousness is focused elsewhere.
The shared mental landscape of economic and political concerns that drive large-scale human interactions are more real to us than the actual physical world.
From this perspective, trees, plains, hills, seas and all animal life are primarily understood as commodities, and an attitude toward them which doesn’t prioritise their monetary value is dismissed as sentimental.
Until recently raising environmental concerns in a political forum was regarded as irresponsible, tree-hugging nonsense. The logic of our mindset allowed us to develop technology, industry and agriculture in a manner that neglected any negative environmental impact, and think ourselves entirely sensible for doing so. Phrases such as “It’s the economy, stupid” sum up our attitude pretty accurately.
This attitude is slowly changing. The information feed into the world of politics and economics from the sciences has been screaming warnings for over a decade.
Increased extreme weather events in the physical world reverberate in the shared mental worlds we regard as more real, and the people who command wealth and power are starting to notice.
The fragility and importance of the environment are now partially acknowledged, and talking about taking action has become priority.
Ruinous climate change looms just beyond our political ken and the slow pace of its advance remains unchecked by the even slower human effort to mount a barely adequate response.
Right now a mix of rhetoric and kicking the can down the road works politically.
Our system is still set up to reward short-term gain and punish sacrifice for future gain. This might be our downfall. By the time we have caused enough environmental damage that climate breakdown becomes impossible to ignore, it may also have become impossible to do anything much about it. – Yours, etc,