THE DISTORTED PSYCHOLOGY OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Regan Kelly | Staff Writer

Science is inseparable from psychology. Do we believe what we are seeing? Are there confounding variables? And is it something we should even care about? According to the psychology of immediacy, if it doesn’t impact us in a distinct or tangible way, we’re not going to spend the energy trying to understand it.

Climate change is a prime example of the intertwining of science and psychology. There’s been decades of research backing evidence for its existence, yet little belief in the empirical evidence. So how is it that Africa, a continent known for its poor education, widespread poverty, and political instability, is a leader in the concern for climate change? The answer falls back to tangibility. In recent times, Africa has seen a steady increase in the occurrence and severity of droughts and floods, natural disasters that have a domino-effect. When there is little rainfall, crops struggle to grow and rivers and lakes are depleted for irrigation, straining supplies for drinking water. When the rain does come, the soil compacted from the droughts cannot take the water in fast enough, washing away whatever crops were growing, precious, nutrient-rich topsoil, and homes. Lack of food leads to malnutrition and predisposition to disease, heightened ten-fold when floods spread sewage. As these countries try to keep their people alive, conflict arises in the vie for what remains of precious resources. And the cycle begins again.

No one feels the pain of this domino effect more than women. As most women live in a patriarchal society, their primary roles are caregivers and providers of food. When food and other resources become strained due to climate change, women must work harder to support their families. For women in poverty, this predicament makes them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, trafficking, and domestic violence. Women subsequently become trapped in these situations as their options diminish, and carries over to their children, who are 2.5 times more likely to marry in childhood and never receive an education, leaving them pregnable to future abuse and exploitation by men.

As women in a first world country, we’re faced with two intangibilities: climate change and its effect on people thousands of miles away. Climate change has recently become “real” to many via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, leading to a new high of 71% of Americans believing climate change is happening. But that leaves the effect on people we don’t know and can’t see.

The dismal fact is that only 5% of Americans believe people can and will reduce global warming. We suffer the bystander effect and assume we’re not doing that much to contribute to climate change; that we can’t really have an impact on reducing emissions until our political leaders make changes. All of these beliefs are extremely untrue and only further the predicament. Every person leaves a carbon footprint (and you can calculate your own online), but industrialized countries like China and the US are leading in emissions, a result of materialism, as factories produce things we don’t need, and wastefulness, as people lazily toss recyclables, food, and things that could be donated into landfills. We don’t seem to believe our personal choices, our personal lifestyles, are contributing much to climate change. And if we do, we’re resistant to changing because it isn’t convenient.

Time in first world countries moves fast. We’re surrounded by a scarcity of time, as our culture imposes forty hour work weeks, social norms of raising a family, and having fun with friends. The things that were once privileges are now expectations, so it is of little surprise that we are tired. And when we’re tired, we pick convenient. The psychological construct of convenience feels nearly impossible to change because it’s biological; we want to save energy, whether that means driving to class instead of walking or picking up dinner from McDonalds instead of cooking yourself. This is what drives capitalism and corporations. Business after business offers us some convenience in exchange for money. Therein lies the biggest problem. In the search to be the most competitive and make the most money, companies must become the most convenient, offer the newest products, and create the highest quality products, whatever the cost. That cost is on our environment, and then on the women we can’t see. We’re blinded by what we can have and no longer see the effects of our choices as a society.

As students at the University of Pittsburgh, it’s very hard to escape the psychological boundaries climate change, intangibility, and convenience put in our path. We can’t even get to an affordable grocery store without taking a diesel bus. But we also have unique opportunities to make small changes to our habits. On Thursdays from 11-2pm, we can compost our food waste in the food court/Schenley Cafe at the William Pitt Union through the SOOS. We can lobby state representatives for the carbon tax with clubs on campus like Pitt’s Citizen’s Climate Lobby Chapter. And we can join sustainability movements and activist downtown to pressure corporations in our city to become more ecologically friendly.

Overall, we as a society need to be the voices for women we can’t see. It’s easier when movements like #MeToo are at our doorstep, but the only way we can combat the bystander effect is to spread the word. We need to talk about climate change and its effect on women to combat the complacency. We need to ensure that future women can enjoy all the benefits of a healthy environment by leaving the one we’re in better than it was.