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Compassion Towards Denial

by Andrew Grandahl

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If you’re reading this right now, chances are, you believe human-caused climate change is real. And for good reason; I need not go down the list of dire climatological and ecological predicaments we have found ourselves in, and that the cause of this is humanity’s seemingly insatiable appetite to travel, to consume, and to, let’s say, live for the moment. The impacts are present and undeniable, and the source of these problems is abundantly clear.

What I do wish to discuss today, is denial. In all of it’s forms, from the far-right demagogue touting a fossil-fuel agenda, to the old man down the street who rolls his eyes explaining “we’ve seen this all before.” From the self-righteous, ill-informed internet antagonist, to someone just looking for any alternative to the harsh truth; that the climate is become more hostile, and that we are the root cause.

These individuals are vastly different. Their motivations are different. But they are all people, products of their environments as we all are, and looking for an alternative to something that causes them pain or discomfort.

I make this point because I feel that many of us, myself included, have forgotten this. For so long, I clumped all climate deniers together as bitter, selfish, misanthropes. “How could they ignore the clear science? How could they deny what is right before them? They must have a death wish for us all!”

But this is simply not true. Climate change is hard, very hard, to stomach. It is tempting indeed to save yourself so much angst, so much grief, that one simply denies its existence. From a purely emotional standpoint, this is understandable. And this is why the greatest tool we have to reach these people is not another study, not another chart, not more research funding; it is compassion. It is empathy. It is seeking to understand rather than to be understood.

I can’t think of the last time I was in a debate with someone where raising my voice and insulting their intelligence led to anything but more anger, and us ending further apart than where we began. We all know this. We all know the key to winning a debate, and winning people over, is to stay calm and collected, and present your argument with such confidence that you don’t need to raise your voice. Yet outrage is what many go to, over and over again, when it comes to climate change deniers.

The anger is understandable. The desperation is real. But combat is not our way out of this. The next time the opportunity presents itself, take a deep breath, and reach across the aisle. Indeed, we need all members of our society on the same side if we are to leverage the political capital to do what’s necessary. You don’t need to agree on everything. You don’t need to be best friends after. Minds change slowly. Our opinions are our identities in many ways, and our identities do not shift overnight. But each act of compassion, each “I see you, and I understand”, goes a long way to building bridges, and building a movement. Science doesn’t work for many. Some need moral motivation. Some need economic incentive. Some might just need a good laugh and a hug. But all of us need compassion, and compassion can change the world.

Andrew Grandahl is a guest blogger for eesi. You can reach him at andrewgrandahl@gmail.com