This is the post for C in the A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012. Link in sidebar.
In recent years, human activities including deforestation, land use changes and burning fossil fuels for energy, have resulted in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.
Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent.
Change is happening and it can be unsettling. We don’t know what will happen or how we’ll manage as individuals, communities and countries. (*A free on-line test is available here to see how readily you adapt to change.)
In “Brain Rules”, John Medina describes a three part response to stress. It reflects how many of us are responding to climate change.
1. There must be an aroused physiological response.
Talking about changing climate can result in passionate responses.
2. The stressor must be perceived as aversive.
Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and severity causing loss of life, property, land and infrastructure. It’s scary.
3. The person must not feel in control of the stressor.
We see the damage from extreme weather events and know we can't control the weather.
We have instant access to harrowing pictures of earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis. We see and hear the damaging effects of increased storm frequency and severity, as well as tidal and bush fire damage.
The fight or flight response, which is our evolutionary response to stress seems to be overloaded. We want to keep safe and avoid physical injury but we’re experiencing a rapidly changing climate and know this is having an effect on our lives and world events - we’d prefer it all just went away.
Many of us are confused by the barage of information, much of which appears to be conflicting. It’s complex because the world, our atmosphere, our oceans, our environmental systems, our animals and we, ourselves, are complex. We don’t know everything there is to know, about everything. To try to get your head around all the different aspects is mindboggling.
We’ve been living with the knowledge of climate change events for a long time now, and I suspect it’s having an effect on health and wellbeing. Could stress related to climate change make us more vulnerable to illness? Does the knowledge that we’re collectively facing life-changing events undermine our hope and ability to act proactively?
It’s not unusual to feel distressed about the state of the world. Our relatively comfortable way of life (at least in the West) has been around for a generation or more. It's possible to become resentful and lash out at those who say we must change our ways. Some people respond by disagreeing with anything that’s said about climate change to protect a belief rather than accept unpalatable scientific research.
On the whole as a species, we like a structure, we like life to be safe and relatively predictable. We're out of our comfort zone. When we're stressed or feel threatened by too much change, when we feel out of control, it's common to respond by hiding away from others or to seek comfort in alcohol, drugs or food. A side affect of stress or depression is that our problem solving and creative thinking abilities are affected, a stressed brain doesn’t learn well so we're less likely to be able to embrace change.
There’s no one around who’se been down the climate change path before, there are no leaders to tell us what to expect, few encouraging and reassuring comments.
However, remember the narration by William Shatner at the beginning Star Trek “…to boldly go where no man has gone before.” It is possible to negotiate these changes successfully, but it will take courage, collaboration and a good dose of creativity.
Last year I wrote about Courage and Climate for C in my theme on workplace bullying. Here.