A List of 'Psychologies' in the Global Warming Story

Some scholars report that psychotherapy's founding father, Sigmund Freud, had doubts about whether elders cared what they left for the young and suspected they often subconsciously resented the young ... for being young.

But many of today's psychotherapists report that the reappearance of the ability to express an "investment in future generations" -- in a long course of therapy -- is actually a sign of the return of mental health.

A number of psychologists this reporter consulted in a seminar at John Jay College run by author and psychotherapist Charles B. Strozier said that when they see a patient begin to express concern for what youth will have to deal with in the future, it shows natural and healthy empathy -- a return of emotional equilibrium.

Famous Harvard psychologist Erik Erikson called this particular symptom of mental balance "a sense of generativity."

This is a vital matter and good news in a story in which the vast majority of the world's climate scientists tell us that avoiding catastrophic climate as early as mid-century (when today's kids will be barely into middle age) requires that humanity act aggressively now to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions.

3. Climate Computers' 'Biggest Unknown' Is Human Psychology

Scientists who feed hundreds of data sets into computers to project how high the global temperature will rise by the year 2050 often say "the biggest unknown" is not how to assess reflectivity of smoke particles, or how quickly plants can absorb carbon dioxide, or what heat input from the sun will add ... but "what will the humans do?"

That is, how much heat-trapping gas will we keep out of the air in which years, and how much new heat may we prevent by other means such as, for example, artificially increasing the reflectivity of the sky or ground?

In other words, global warming is, at its core, a story about -- and depends upon -- human psychology.

Our actions, and lack of them, are psychologically based in desire, fear, curiosity and other emotions and subconscious motives.

4. 'The 3 F's' -- Fatal Psychologies to Avoid

"Panic, you die!" as the old saying goes.

The "three F's" -- fight, flight or freeze -- are reactions to clear and present danger that evolution seems to have built into our neural tendencies.

But they are clearly fatal in the face of an immense "slow-onset disaster" like that described by today's climate scientists.

Actually, given that Kofi Annan's global Humanitarian Forum estimated that some 300,000 people already die each year because of global warming, this disaster may not be at all "slow onset" for some.

Fight -- This violent approach, which may have increased odds against some saber toothed tigers, isn't even imaginable here -- though some impossibly grandiose schemes, such as launching thousands of giant mirrors into space to reflect the sun's heat, may feel a bit like a thwarted physical urge to do, at least, something.

Flight -- Not possible, given space travel's infancy. And the mental flight of denial or repression is little help.

Freeze -- This is obviously useless and perhaps a tricky problem for leaders who both listen to climate scientists and need to help keep society engaged with the problem.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...