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Left, center and right, we're all in denial about climate change

Ted Rall on

The political left, center and right do share something in common in today's polarized America: We're all in denial.

The first step in 12-step programs is to admit that you have a problem; you can't tackle a challenge whose existence you refuse to acknowledge. "From a psychoanalytical viewpoint, denial is a pathological, ineffective defense mechanism," doctors M.S. Vos and J.C. de Haes observed in their 2006 study of cancer patients. A stunning 47% of the patients they polled denied that they had cancer! Denial reduced their chances of seeking treatment and then following through.

"On the other hand," Vos and de Haes observed, "according to the stress and coping model, denial can be seen as an adaptive strategy to protect against overwhelming events and feelings." Denial lets you feel better.

We think of climate change denial as a right-wing phenomenon. Indeed, only 56% of Republicans accept the scientific consensus that the Earth is heating up. Fewer still believe that humans are responsible, compared to the 92% of Democrats who agree with scientists.

Those who deny that climate change is real are engaging in what psychologists call "simple denial." But those on the left aren't much better. Liberals who think global warming is real often resort to "transference denial": They blame the right and corporate polluters even though we're all responsible. The scale of the climate crisis and the level of sacrifice and disruption that would be necessary to mitigate it feels overwhelming. A widely reported analysis predicted that human civilization will collapse in 30 years. Others say it's already too late to save ourselves.

"We're doomed," predicts Mayer Hillman, a senior fellow emeritus at the University of Westminster's Policy Studies Institute. "The outcome is death, and it's the end of most life on the planet because we're so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so."

 

He's probably right.

Bernie Sanders recently proposed the most ambitious assault on greenhouse gas emissions ever floated in U.S. politics, a $16.3 trillion plan to transition out of carbon-based fuels by 2050. By that time, though, we'll be dead.

As aggressive as Sanders' plan is, it doesn't go nearly far enough or fast enough. Yet Republicans and some Democrats say it's too expensive. No one in corporate media is taking Sanders' idea seriously. It's stillborn.

Liberals post their concern to social media. Some even attend protest marches. But they're hardly acting like we face an existential crisis.

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