Our Brains on Climate Change and Other Confusing Stories ~ Part 2 (Exploring Denial)

Garden tunel
Garden tunel

Do what feels good” ~ Diet Coke slogan (US 2002)

In order to adequately address climate change, people in rich industrial nations will have to reduce current levels of consumption to levels few are prepared to consider. This truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” ~ Erik Lindberg from Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Mark Twain


Naomi Klein says it right: active deniers (usually from the right wing in politics) are much more aware of the realities of climate change (and I would add the realities of all the other predicaments we face such as resource depletion, pollution, erosion, etc) than those who say they “believe” but act otherwise…

Thinking in systems (as Permaculture and ecology teach us to do) allows us to “connect the dots” and start seeing the big picture, the connections, the full-cycle: the point is not moving from “fossil fuels” to “renewables” so we can “feel good” and “be green” while continue our lavish life styles…

”Sustainable development” (an oxymoron, a myth and an impossible delusion) says that the only way to go to “the other side” of the climate change and resource depletion curves is “empowering people”…I’ve taken enough courses on “Sustainability” to understand what this means: continue the “growth” upon which all capitalism system is built and make everybody the same so all and each one of us (7 billion and growing) can live like Americans do… the problem is, again, delusion: when (and if) everybody can live as Americans do, who would work on the sweatshops, the mines and the industrial farms that currently support the American way of life? Where are the resources going to come if now, just to keep up with the Americans, China and other countries are mining and exploiting every single mountain and piece of land…what wars are we going to fight if everybody is “empowered” that way, wars that are currently being pursued to “defend” the American Dream (i.e. access to increasingly depleted resources)…and where are all those 7, 8 or 9 billions of empowered people will live when climate change has wiped out agricultural land, coastlines and is making havoc through challenging and changing weather?

It always surprises me how only a few seem to be aware that “renewables” are a delusion, a “feeling good” as Diet Coke’s slogan says: most people seem not able to make the obvious connections: that renewables also use resources and that most of those resources are depleting even faster than fossil fuels: solar panels, individual cars, wind blades, all these things need to be built and the materials they are made of need to be mined from somewhere…most of these energy has to be stored and behind every hybrid car and every light bulb we change there are two nasty things: the car (and the bulb) we throw “away” for being “unsustainable” (therefore, producing waste and using energy to “get rid of it”) and the mining, manufacturing and transporting/selling: all processes that use both energy (in most cases from fossil fuels) and raw (non renewable) materials such as minerals…

Another issue with “renewables” is scale: Erik Linberg put it much better than I could in his recent post at Resilience.org that I fully recommend (I have read few articles so lucid as his): Six Myths About Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question…if we think we can bring 7 billion people (or even half of that) to live as most North Americans do right now, all based on “renewables” we are definitely in what I call “passive denial”…

Passive denial may hurt much more than the active one: active denial is behind media, politics and economy actively saying that climate change is a hoax, a Trojan Horse from liberals and the left to create a sort of global communist state, to kill the beloved and magic “free market” and the wonderful “globalization”…and they are in many ways right: climate change and resource depletion will bring free market and globalization to not one but many collapses, and people will be forced to act in a more “communal” way…but they may also bring wars and social collapses, revolutions (which are by definition not organized and very messy as history shows)

But passive deniers are worse: because they are trying to convince us that drinking Diet Coke will save us from stroke and all kinds of health calamities: they are trying to make us “feel good”.

Why feeling good feels so wrong

In Permaculture, Transition and other initiatives and organizations I have found lots of people who (sadly) are in passive denial or plainly delusional: they don’t want to hear “bad news”, they want to only hear “solutions”…many push for renewables and divestment, others trust in crazy things such as colonizing other planets (I’ve read that Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist believes in climate change…but thinks our “salvation” will be on colonizing other planets: “It is possible that the human race could become extinct but it is not inevitable. I think it is almost certain that a disaster, such as nuclear war or global warming will befall the earth within a thousand years.” He also said it was essential humans colonise space to allow them to spread across the universe.) …

The problem I see with the “looking for solutions” and delusion is that all of that leads nowhere: we can’t “solve” a problem by looking to another side or hiding our heads in the ground: facing reality is painful, but it is also liberating and the only honest and ethical way to deal with painful things.

Avoiding “painful” or “bad” news and avoiding the talk about all the complex and deeply interconnected predicaments we are facing is also against “People-care”: many are literally agonizing for not being able to express their fears and concerns about all this…as George Marshall mentions in his book “Don’t even think about it”, most people don’t talk about climate change: it is a conversation killer wherever you go and no matter who you want to talk to or how you address it: our society has gone so far as to censor the media, environmental organizations and government institutions (Marshall’s book chapter 17 “don’t even talk about it!, p. 84 and 85)

And while “feeling good” for doing “the right thing” may feel good for a while…it has a bitter aftertaste (which, for me, is almost always a “before-taste” as I seem to have a crap detector switched on most of the time…which makes me a bit of a loner and conversation killer!).

This “after-taste” comes when a voice inside tells you that green-wash doesn’t work: that throwing your hummer or SUV for a hybrid only changes the colour of the problem (somebody will use your hummer/SUV and best case, they have to be disposed of); it tells you that emissions don’t care about your intentions: if you flight it won’t matter whether you were visiting dying grandma, attending a Permaculture convention or just enjoying vacations in the Bahamas…; it also tells you many other things you may not want to hear and that is why passive denial or plain delusion are actually a defense mechanism…even a mechanism to keep us sane…for now.

Do all this mean we are doomed and better give up?

Some authors have read the signs and concluded that there is nothing else to do. That is the case of Dark Mountain Project, Carolyn Baker and the more radical Guy McPherson from Nature Bats Last. That is also the belief behind many behind Peak Prosperity (whose “Crash Course” I encourage all to check).

Most of these authors are really lucid: not only they have connected the dots; they have their eyes wide open and have observed how complex all is…they all have embarked in a journey I deeply respect: a journey that includes embracing life, respect for the sacred in it, follow the signs to see what else is in store and how things develop, report to others on it and help people to be prepared for whatever is in store…most than anything, I respect them because they have been honest and have avoided delusion…however, I am what you could call a “realistic-positive” person…I don’t look for delusional “solutions” but don’t feel that giving up is any good either…

The role of Permaculture and Transition

Seattle coast

The Titanic has just crashed with the tip of an iceberg: most people are unaware and concerned by their short-term, individual worries such as what dress they would wear or what food to order; from the ones who heard, so or suspect the collision, some are so scared that the party may be over that they go either on denial or delusion mode…and from those who know what’s happening, some have decided to enjoy the view, their last meal and the music, some are running all around trying to fix the holes and some are jumping into life boats…

But some have been a bit more creative and (against all odds) are slowly building an island in the middle of the ocean: they don’t know whether the island would be finished by the time the ship shrinks; they don’t know whether the island would have enough space or food for all, but they keep going…some of these awesome elves and fairies are a bit delusional and/or on denial too…but they keep going and that is what matter most.

That is what Permaculture and Transition do: we are not growing potatoes in a bag in the balcony because is cheaper this way: we are doing it because we know this is the time to learn and make mistakes, not when we have no more space to grow them or when we are forced to grow them inside old shoes!

The same goes for all the other crazy things permaculturists and transitioners do: having a community garden potluck may sound as a delusion if you think this will mitigate climate change or minimize resource depletion…but it builds community, it keeps people together and it may be an opportunity to break the ice and talk about the many things we face: all these things will be necessary when the world starts being not-so-friendly as it already is for so many in Africa, Asia, South America and even Europe.

On my next post, i will continue exploring denial and trying to put together the feelings and thoughts to create something we can “do”: such as planting a tree not expecting we will sit under its shadow…


Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.”

~ Emily Dickinson

4 Comments on “Our Brains on Climate Change and Other Confusing Stories ~ Part 2 (Exploring Denial)

  1. This post makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve felt similar things about ‘inclusion’…inclusion into what? Into a western world assumed to be best, but which upholds a way of life that is destructive to the natural world, to the birds, fishes, earth, and all of the resources extracted from earth.

    I think the only way to go is to work outside of the system as a whole. And for that, we need to learn from the people who have always existed outside of this…the people who don’t fight change.

    I’m still learning. I enjoyed this post though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments Nicci…I’m still learning too, and trying to figure out what’s my role in all this and what’s worth and what’s not…whatever the solution is, it will be build by all of us and, at the same time, it will be localized: what works for you and your family and for your town, city or community may not work for mine and so on…take care! And thank you for reading…


  2. It’s been 40 years since I built my first solar oven when I was a kid during the energy crises of the 70’s. As a longtime “solar user” and a promoter renewable energy this article is really hard hitting and gut wrenching for me. (I think in a good way… hmmm,) Appropriate technology (i.e village plows), vs inappropriate technology (i.e. nuclear bombs) is a topic that Fritz Schumacher spoke a lot about. I think it gets back to what Aldo Leopold said, “A thing is right if it protects the biotic diversity…”

    Simple devices and design like passive solar homes, home built sun-ovens, & solar batch hot water heaters. These are real solutions, available to people throughout the planet, rich or poor alike – I think it’s known as voluntary simplicity. I think you and I and so many others are working on multitude of solutions. Appropriate design and appropriate technology is a core part of permaculture, as I understand it.

    Having said this, I think what I am feeling now is a bit of reality check… i.e. in my Brain, about Climate Change , and Other Confusing realities. Earlier today, by chance I read the “6 myths” article you refer to and I was a bit stunned – even a little angry. That’s classic denial isn’t it?

    I do really appreciate this article, even though I find it hard to like – who among us that knows the urgency of the situation could like what we’re facing? I’m going to have to delve into this over the next days i.e look at your… links, etc, maybe the Crash Course, as i do more and more soul searching… I must say the first thing I saw on that page was the ad for the Energy East Pipeline – more confusion and anger … argh.

    Hopefully I’ll learn and grow as I work through this… rid myself of some of this delusion,,,, Thanks again for your good work and a provocative article Silvia.


    • Dear Bruce,
      I like your honesty…few people would say what they feel, they just leave, turn away, try changing the conversation or get angry with the messenger (in this case, me)
      As George marshal in his book and Naomi Klein’s in hers, I’m trying to explore where we are and why the inaction and contradictions amongst the apparent “blessed unrest” of so many small groups doing great things and even official institutions doing “what’s right”…I am aware of being touching the wound, and nobody likes that…but I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated lately: it happens each time I crash against the denial/delusion wall…imagine you are in a relationship where one thinks everything will stay the same and even improve if you only change the furniture and buy new stuff, while the other sees clearly that the changes need to be profound and they may lead to a separation…that’s how I feel: with no reality check and no real discussion and bringing up the open wound, it is impossible to heal…or to avert further damage.
      Appropriate technology is the way to go: what’s good for some places may not be good for others. It has to work for the locals and be truly “sustainable” or what Holmgren calls “beyond sustainable”. Cob ovens and natural building are neither appropriate nor realistic for most cities; co-housing may not work well for everybody and so on…we may even have to re-think what we grow in community gardens: annuals are hard to adapt and keep up with in face of all what’s coming, and nobody would realistically survive on a community-garden-only diet these days…however, they bring people together, they teach people about soil and growing food, democracy and many other important skills and values.
      “design for disaster” is part of Permaculture (one that some PDCs avoid teaching in depth) and I come from a disaster management background and know that you can’t dream on mitigating, responding/relief/rebuild nor adapting strategies if you don’t face the realities a disaster brings up…

      Liked by 1 person

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