People respond best to crises. And as the crisis builds, before it is recognized as such, citizens function in mental states promoting inaction. This natural tendency to wait on calamity before responding does not translate well into wise future planning. People wait for a crisis to be well defined, hanging like a curtain-clinging cat onto what they know. Tribal denial works best as a first response long before acceptance.
Other stories of peoples’ origin have been told, but here I stick with the scientific evolutionary theory that human nature evolved on the plains of Africa. And there, survival often worked best by sitting tight. Why expend precious survival energy responding to what may never occur? Today’s crazy weather event sent by the sky gods will be gone with tomorrow’s sunrise. If not, what can we do about sky gods? Experience taught—food, clothing, shelter for today—stay alive. Focus on the now and stick with what worked in the past. Change is risky.
People develop local tradition. In Alberta there is little interest in IPCC scientists blabbing about climate change. Especially NOT when our oil industry is the cause. Oil field workers do not want to change their careers over to geothermal, though existing drilling technology may apply, nor wind and solar energy installations though the field work might be cleaner. We have tar sand infrastructure built, thank you. Not happening.
While carbon reduction targets get no air time, not a whisper, provincial and city preparedness for the next flood runs high profile. A perceived worry, a mini-crisis. Yet the conversation on causes of extreme weather events, floods being one, remains unspoken. As we scramble, expecting another flood. The 2005 flood was the first to flow over the top of Calgary’s Glenmore dam since construction in the 1930s. The flood of 2013 followed second, with a larger flow rate. A potential trend—floods increasing in size and closer together. Suggesting the near future occurrence of a larger high water event. Why prepare now, we’ve got a statistical 99 year wait window, don’t we? We respond to direct personal impact.
Things take time to prepare for flood mitigation says the province of Alberta. The flooding has attention, but has yet to translate into a crisis, and certainly not a human emitted carbon caused climate crisis. Greenpeace states for CBC news we were informed three decades ago. Any indication here of people waiting for crisis?
Historical global crises have occurred, such as WWII. Adolph Hitler was elected chancellor in 1933, some argue on a platform addressing unresolved issues from the previous world war. Mr Chamberlain repeatedly reached out with appeasement. Many attempts to keep things just the way they were. We don’t want a crisis. In hindsight, there were many opportunities to have avoided WWII. But people don’t operate that way. They wait, and in many cases, they wait too long. They may have waited too long to respond to climate change, and they are choosing to postpone any real effort even longer. The real crisis isn’t here. Not yet.
People resist change. Whatever survival tactic worked out on the plains of Africa, whatever tradition in later more complex cultures worked for the past generation, that was the best to keep. Don’t change anything. Some things never change. That’s just the way it is. Not true perhaps, well really it isn’t, but spoken by multiple voices it becomes a common belief.
Human nature’s tendency to manage only crises suggests people will manage climate change when perceived as a crisis, ignoring wise feedback from science. And only if and when the crisis has direct impact on their personal lives. Which, when it comes to climate change, may be too late. People responding to the direct impact of southern Alberta flooding plan to adapt. To build berms, dig diversion channels High River, and a Calgary tunnel from the reservoir under the city to the river downstream. They don’t mention the fact that the carbon they are dumping in the air living their Alberta lifestyle has strongly increased the probability of reoccurring flooding. They don’t want at all to change their lifestyle, to emit less carbon by having no car or purchasing net zero housing. They don’t want a lower income even if meaning quality family time. They will make change only if floodwaters inundate their property. Then, they will move. They will not see the bigger picture and seek to solve the global carbon problem. They will, like on the plains of Africa, figure out what to do just for them. Their family, their tribe, their local region. Yet the atmosphere extends globally, shared.
For many the party hasn’t ended and never will. Some will take one last fling to a tropical resort before the last of the reef’s die off. Others will find adventure in escape, north as stressed wilds diminish. But to participate in a wise move towards managing carbon emissions in the interests of a healthy life support system, our planet, is unlikely. Invisible CO2 and gradual weather change just does not define a crisis.
So talk to people. Ask them, or better watch what they really do. Ask how many are moving to the inner city to lower their carbon footprint? Or closer to a public transit route or investing in a net zero house or a smart car. For their children’s sake? Detect any response delay? Detect anyone waiting? Believe more change would happen if there was a real in their face crisis? When our climate change crisis actually becomes a crisis.
Genetic evolution, such as began on the African plains, proceeds at a snail’s pace. Cultural evolution may experience a major turnover in a generation, maybe in 20 years. Crisis response is near immediate—but there need be a recognized crisis. For climate change, stay tuned.