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Our climate is changing

By David Harris-Koblin

Besides being infamously inconvenient, it is also empirically proven; a 2021 meta analysis of peer reviewed studies found that over 99% of sampled climate related papers since 2012 reached this consensus. But, beyond what scientists and academics can demonstrate through advanced experiments, for the first time, the general public can rely on their own experiences to confirm our shared reality: temperatures are rising, ice sheets are shrinking, and unprecedented, extreme weather events are increasing across our planet.


Despite this, we live within a culture of disinformation and denial. Unlike other conspiracy theories (think sasquatch, the moon landing, etc.) climate denialism is embedded in elite institutions and leaders, including major political parties and the mainstream media. The Former President, and current frontrunner of the Republican party, for example, has repeatedly stated that climate change is a “Chinese Hoax”.


What does it mean to have the former and potentially future leader of the free world cast these racist and baseless aspersions? 


This comment is abhorrent for many reasons, first of which is that it is bigoted, invoking tropes rooted in racism and xenophobia. Whether intentional or not, Trump is also taking advantage of a specific psychological phenomena known as motivated interference, in which our brains privilege learned biases over new information. Psychologists characterize this denial -  the refusal to accept the reality of a situation - as a function of our biology designed to protect ourselves: a “primitive defense mechanism”. Namely, a reaction to fear.


While Trump is a unique figure within American culture, climate denialism is not limited by our southern border. According to an Ipsos 2023 poll, only 60% of Canadians believe that the government needs to formally address climate change.


The consequences of this denialism are manifold, and all too often place the largest burden on the most vulnerable in society. African Americans, for example, disproportionately live near commercial facilities which “produce noise, odor, traffic or emissions” that have demonstrable  and direct health consequences. Likewise, disabled folks are “two to four times more likely to die or be injured in climate emergencies including heatwaves, hurricanes, and floods”.


Beyond these acute instances, climate change also produces permanent disabilities. Take SARS Covid-19, for instance. While its exact origins are still being investigated, the relationship between the industrial raising and slaughtering of animals is inextricably linked to debilitating illnesses. As Dhont notes, “Most infectious diseases are zoonotic, jumping from animals to humans, with COVID-19 as no exception”. Unsustainable and unregulated meat production, including wet markets, where the majority of scientists believe that COVID-19 originated from, play a massive role in carbon emissions, deforestation, and act as an incubator for diseases which have the potential to disable. As of October 2023, there have been 771,549,718 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The World Health Organization currently estimates that between 10 - 20% of individuals infected with Covid develop Long Covid, for which treatments are limited and symptoms may be incurable.

On our current path, the connection between disability and climate change stands to only deepen. As air quality worsens, as communities and wildlife are displaced, and as temperatures rise, we can continue to expect that marginalized and disabled communities will bear the brunt of the economic and healthcare consequences.

So, what can we do? What solutions exist?

Technical solutions to reduce or eliminate our carbon emissions are beyond the scope of this blog. There are countless possibilities, with varying levels of merit. But before we can debate the efficacy of regulations, corporate social responsibility, and carbon capturing innovations, we must reach a consensus that there is indeed a problem, and that this problem is not shared equally.

If leaders and institutions continue to take advantage of our collective fear by promoting a culture of denial, then we need to rethink not just who has the privilege of leadership, but the concept of leadership itself. We need to dispel the appeal of strongmen leaders, like Trump, and instead expand upon what McGill professor Henry Mintzberg describes as corporate “Communityship” to society writ large; we have to collectively build a context in which everyone feels like they have a stake in the resultant problems of, and potential solutions to, climate change. By democratizing climate change discourse and creating a culture wherein the burden and responsibility of change is shared, we can hopefully make the abstract, tangible.

The first step to produce this shift is inclusivity. As we imagine a carbon neutral reality, it is imperative that we include individuals and groups who have not had a say in the current shape of our world.

This is a wicked problem. To deny the reality of climate change is to also deny the legitimacy of those currently disabled and those who will be made disabled. But we also face an unprecedented opportunity. Green jobs, green infrastructure, and the application of artificial intelligence, all present a chance to reset, to build a more equitable planet at its foundation. The marginalized simply need to be afforded the same chance to participate fully.




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