Left, Center and Right: We’re All in Denial About Climate Change

main article image 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 begins with admitting that you have a problem for a reason: 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 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 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.

 The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg told world leaders: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.”

 Panic? Our “leaders” don’t give a crap. They’re too bought and too stupid to act.

 The bird population in the U.S. has collapsed by 29%—a total of 2.9 billion fewer birds—over the last 50 years. During that same period we lost half the world’s fish. Insects are on the way out too. “No insects equals no food, [which] equals no people,” says Dino Martins, an entomologist at Kenya’s Mpala Research Centre.

 None of this should come as a surprise. We were warned. “The oceans are in danger of dying,” Jacques Cousteau said in 1970. Life in the oceans had diminished by 40 percent in the previous 20 years.

 If you really believe that the planet is becoming uninhabitable, if you think you are about to die, you don’t march peacefully through the streets holding signs and chanting slogans begging the corrupt scoundrels who haven’t done a damn thing for decades to wake up and do something. You identify the politicians and corporate leaders who are killing us, you track them down and you use whatever force is necessary to make them stop. Nothing less than regime change stands a chance of doing the job.

 Nothing else—the struggle for income equality, gun control, abortion—matters as much as attacking pollution and climate change.

 Anything short of revolution and the abolition of consumer capitalism is “minimizational denial“: admitting the problem while downplaying its severity. Anything short of a radical retooling of the global political system that establishes state control of the economy with environmental impact as our first, second and third priorities is a waste of time that dooms the human race to extinction.

 There is no middle ground, no splitting the difference, no compromise. “Good enough” isn’t good enough. Mere progress won’t cut it. Human survival is a pass-fail class. The final exam is tomorrow morning—early tomorrow morning.

 Time to get serious, godammit.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


12 thoughts on “Left, Center and Right: We’re All in Denial About Climate Change

  1. Sanders, who I keep expecting to read has just gotten his head blown off by “a lone gunman” (i.e., a CIA operative or a patsy set up to take the fall), can’t hand us all the truth just like that because he’d face the same shit he got in 2016 when he said climate change was the biggest crisis we faced and he was laughed at by the mainstream media.

    He has to start small (and his ideas at this point are, genuinely, small); it is barely at the edge of human capacity to comprehend how big the global problems are. So we start on one part of it. For instance, completely repairing the rail system in the U.S., something on the same order of magnitude as the Apollo program, and making the trains efficient, high-speed, affordable, etc., is one thing. While that’s going on, a second part has to be started, maybe fixing the electrical grid in this country by nationalizing it and bringing it into the 21st century. Then, get the third thing going. I’d make being a college student a profession. You get free tuition, room and board, and a small salary (maybe $20K a year). Almost no one wants to be a student indefinitely, so people might take five or six years to get their degree, or take two degrees. It will force businesses to make salaries competitive.
    And when we get to the end of it and everything is really, really, quite nice, and everyone’s amazed at it, we can all admit, “If Bernie told us all this at once, we woulda stayed home and watched cartoons on Election Day.”

  2. The last person in power who understood this predicament was Jimmie Carter. He told us we were on a boat with just enough gas left to get safely to shore, so the party is over, let’s back off the throttle and sail carefully to port. Along came Ronald Reagan telling everyone it’s all good, throw Carter overboard, crack a beer, and throttle up. Next stop is a crack up on the rocky shore.

  3. H sapiens sapiens has had a run of about 300000 years ; now, it would seem, it will shortly be over. What happens when one combines cleverness with a lack of wisdom ?…

    The planet will survive and continue to follow the sun ’round the galactic centre for many revolutions, until after several more thousand million years, our star begins its life as a helium burner and expands to include our rock….

    So it goes….


    • Kurt Vonnegut pointed out that the planet will be fine. It will not, however, remain a suitable life support system for our fragile species.

  4. Possibly the raccoons will evolve into true self-awareness? They’ve almost got the hands for precision tool use. And they certainly possess enough intelligence already to solve simple problems. Procyon sapiens. Perhaps we can put some sort of time capsule on the moon? Something they’ll be able to find in six or seven million years. I’d hate like hell to think that all that literature and music was for nothing.

  5. Ted is right. As usual.
    One option is ecoterrorism. The movie “The East” is definitely worth watching.
    On a hopeful note, a lot more has been said about climate change just lately than I can remember.
    I attended a kid’s rally in my small town on Friday. More older people than younger. How about that Gretta Thunberg? Is she from another planet? Wonder Woman? Handle a member of Congress without a blink.

    My challenge is to put together some kind of a description of what life will–have to–look like in the years to come. Most of the everyday life we take for granted will come to a halt. A huge number of people will be left with nothing to do for income. A giant crime spree? Martial law? Redistribution of wealth–universal basic income.

  6. Re: “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.”

    How unfortunately true.

    The latest “liberal” magical thinking, finger pointing and “we can do this only by CONSUMING ‘green’ products,” self-delusions:

    1) various beef substitutes – what’s SO compelling about beef, besides its congressional lobby, that compels us to retain it … in any form or production scheme?
    2) “the 100 largest corporate CO2 emitters” – as if liberals do not consume the products requiring emissions to come into existence?
    3) “the US military is the world largest emitter” Clearly the military has got to go but its emissions are only 1% of the US annual total.

    • PS: ALL products require CO2 emissions to come into existence, from food to fuel to even solar panels … and all other components of infrastructure of “renewable energy.”

  7. Wealthy elders have always sacrificed lives of the young to their wars of man-against-man.

    Why would the elders not also sacrifice the lives of the young in their war of man-against-nature, and earth’s human-life-sustaining climate?

    If the care of man by man were universal then war would have lost its attraction, and the killing of man by man, organized by the relatively few, by pitting the many in fights against each other for scraps in the struggle for individual survival, would have come to an end.

    How can the war of man-against-earth be ended if the wars of man-against-man will not end, and will end the lives of much of what has been born on earth along with man himself along and what sustains him?

    The wars of man-against-man are waged intentionally, while the war of man-against-nature is largely not waged intentionally for that purpose (except for such as the killing of American buffaloes to kill American Indians by starvation, and the use of depleted uranium to kill the land occupied by American enemies du jour).

    How can the unintentional destruction of man in its war-against-nature be ended while the intentional destruction of man-by-man still prevails?

  8. I figger some humans will survive, one way or the other. Mebbe the rich folks in their exclusive bunkers, maybe a few on the fringes. Then they’ll all eat cockroaches or whatever else survived.

    Sad fact, I’m thinking it can’t be *fixed* – that would involve giving up fossil fuels right now, everywhere. And that would lead to mass starvation, etc. So, ain’t gonna happen. Killing off 90% of the world’s population would work as well, but I’d object to being in the 90%, so I assume everyone else would be, too. But then, maybe the inevitable heat-inspired wars will kill enough of us off. (Go Team!)

    We’re genetically predisposed to solve immediate problems rather than “maybe tomorrow” problems. So, maybe, just maybe, some drastic fix will be implemented at the very last minute, but that ain’t happening until more people are scared right this minute.

  9. A total green effort would likely take a world government ready to pounce on people, cities or countries that break the RULES:
    1: One child familes
    2: Ration books for food, clothing, goods,long distance transportation to make sure the rich have to cut back (no carbon credit jet setting) and the poor have access to the basics.
    3: No selling ration credits, if your family doesn’t use the ration the coupon it is void.
    4: Thrift store items don’t use coupons, encourage repair and reuse of items.
    5: overstock items would low or no coupon items, producers would have produce less ASAP/next season for seasonal items.
    5: A company can get a greener score by insuring >90 percent of their employees live close by
    6: Goal most people will walk or pedal to work, some will use electric buses and trains.
    7: Private cars in areas with public transit will be highly restricted.
    8: Electric or hand powered lawnmowers and garden tools
    9: Meat once a week, same for cheese (A few special occasion coupons every year)
    10: Slash the number of monoculture farms, go with more hand labor intensive mixed crop farms.
    11: Electric or solar cooking, no more gas or charcoal
    12: A vast reduction in the numbers of cats and dogs, this generation will have to be fixed
    13: No more commercial gold and gem mining, small claims worked with only hand tools will be ok (too hard to control so make it legal and regulated)
    14: Athletes/sport teams will rarely fly, national championships the Olympics
    As the population falls demolish the outer suburbs and reclaim the land for nature

    Many will try and cheat, investigations and volunteers will be on their tails
    Green wars may have to launched if counties repeatedly break the rules

    A lot personnel will need for the Green Army and Green Police
    Green bureaucracy, the green courts need people too
    People can earn credits by outing rule breakers
    Farmers will have more access to food.

    Those convicted of breaking green rules will often be sentenced to hard labor, environmental clean up, sorting recyclables…ect.

    Gas or hybrid emergency response vehicles are fine, gas vehicles for rural locations, or construction on a case by case basis. Less long distance shipping of items, ma

    ODDS of this happening ZERO, no current government would want to cede that much power.to the green front. Many too locked into capitalism as currently practiced could easily morph into an armed résistance.

    • Oldvet, as you point out, the odds of the necessary steps being taken are zero. We (H sapiens sapiens) are screwed….