In her study of a small environmentally conscious community in Norway, Kari Marie Norgaard notes that it is widely assumed by researchers that people fail to respond to the threat of global warming because they are poorly informed, greedy, self-focused or have faulty cognitive processes. Yet she observes that the people she spoke with85

expressed feelings of deep concern and caring and a significant degree of ambivalence about the issue of global warming . . . Community members described fears of loss of ontological security, feelings of helplessness, guilt, and the associated emotion of fear of 'being a bad person'.

So what do we do with these feelings? Norgaard identified blame-shifting as an effective method of managing troublesome emotions. As citizens of a small country, many of her Norwegian subjects were quick to blame 'Amerika' and mentioned the Bush Administration's repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol. When they were reminded that Norway is the world's second-largest exporter of oil, attention shifted to the fact that Norway is not seen as important geopolitically.

Blame-shifting is a useful, ifoften indefensible, means ofdenying guilt. It is a form of moral disengagement whereby we disavow our responsibility for the problem or the solution. Throughout the world over the last few years, there has been a strong push to scapegoat China. That China 'builds a new coal-fired power plant every week' and 'China is now the world's biggest emitter' have been used by conservatives in Australia, for example, to argue there is no point cutting emissions until China does. Blame-shifting reached a sublime level in 2008 when the president of the powerful American National Mining Association defended the US coal industry in the following terms: 'Reducing U.S. emissions will not have any meaningful impact on atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations when emissions from China and India already surpass our own.'86 In their analysis of coping strategies Tom Crompton and Tim Kasser suggest that blame-shifting can take the form of denigration of out-groups.87 Studies show that derogation of outsiders is enhanced when people are reminded of their mortality.

A related strategy is to shift responsibility for the problem to a higher power, thereby making us the instrument of forces beyond our control. This strategy is adopted by some people with a religious outlook and some with a scientific outlook. In the Rapture movement of certain fundamentalist Christians God rather than humanity is responsible for climate calamity, an aspect of the 'tribulation' that is understood as divine retribution for human sin. 'The rapture is a way to escape the terrible things that will come after it.'88 The 'pre-wrath' return of Jesus to rescue the faithful before the tribulation is a reprise of the beliefs of

Mrs Keech's 1954 sect, who were convinced that a flood would destroy the Earth, sparing only those who committed themselves to God through Keech. In keeping with millenarian tradition, the Rapture sees the coming tribulation as a cleansing of the Earth.89 As such, human-induced climate change is reframed as the will of God and therefore a good thing, or at least a necessary thing.

Closely related to the Rapture is another form of defence favoured by some who would be aghast at ever being mentioned in the same breath. It involves a kind of intellectual distancing through characterising global warming and its impact on the world as 'natural' within a larger frame that views humans as just another form of life. This intellectualisation is the preferred coping mechanism adopted by James Lovelock, who argues that Gaia, like the God of Rapture, is indifferent to the fate of humans who are, after all, only one species among many.90 The fact that the elimination of that species would involve death and suffering on a scale unparalleled is abstracted from by a process of mental withdrawal to a vantage point somewhere in outer space or lodged in universal time from which the cries of the dying cannot be heard. In a similar way, Alan Weissman's 2008 book The World Without Us plots the relentless revegetation and reclamation of the Earth after humans have suddenly vanished from its surface. The imagery celebrates Nature's power and majesty and invites us to take an unsentimental view of human extinction by focusing on forces beyond our control.

0 0

Post a comment