Facing up to stealth denial


‘To know and not to act, is not to know.’

Wang Yang-ming (Neo-Confucian philosopher, 1472 –1529)

How consistent are we in aligning what we think with how we act? I know this second mug of coffee may keep me awake tonight, but I squash that knowledge and slurp away. I know my cheesecake is full of fat – I stirred in the cheese – but I still help myself to another slice. My own tiredness and body mass is my own problem. But what about collective denial, when the result could be global disaster?

A recent report from the RSA, A New Agenda on Climate Change – Facing Up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels, finds that the human response to climate change is unfolding as a political tragedy because scientific knowledge and economic power are pointing in different directions. What we know about climate change creates a moral imperative to act, but this imperative is diluted at every level by collective denial and short-termism.

The report is based on a survey conducted by the RSA and YouGov in May 2013, to look into how people’s acceptance of climate change affected their actions. While 80% of people intellectually accept the reality of human-caused climate change, two-thirds ‘deny’ some or all of the commensurate feelings, responsibility and agency that are necessary to deal with it. This stealth denial allows doublethink in a number of areas – we think we are acting on climate change when, actually, nothing is being done. For example, we Brits are trying to minimise carbon emissions, both by household and nationally, but at the same time we are encouraging corporations, through financial incentives and share-ownership, to maximise fossil fuel production. The global nature of climate change means that this can only make sense if we are selling coal to another planet. As far as I know our fossil fuel companies have yet to tap that market.

The report makes suggestions for how Britain can take a leading role in addressing the global climate problem, something that 40% of survey respondents wanted to see happen. Number five is Financial Influence – Support divestment in fossil fuels. If stealth denial is about not feeling we have personal responsibility for the climate problem and that there isn’t anything much we can do about it anyway, then the link between pension funds and investments and fossil fuel reserves is invaluable. If you have a pension you are almost sure to be a part-owner of a fossil fuel reserve. So we are all part of the problem. And joining a movement that is calling for disinvestment from fossil fuels can be part of the solution. The point is not to bankrupt the fossil fuel companies, but to stigmatise them, using personal agency to shape social norms and influence future investment decisions so that fossil fuel companies move faster to other forms of energy.

Why not deny denial in your finances and join the growing call for fossil fuel disinvestment?

For Churches: sign up for email updates on how you can support Bright Now

For universities: People & Planet’s Fossil Free Campaign

For pensions: Share Action’s Green Light Campaign

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