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Keep calm and save the Earth

By Lyn Bender - posted Monday, 4 July 2016

Australians' concern about climate has surged in the last three years to its highest ever. The Climate Institute reports that 72 per cent accept the science on human caused climate change..Significantly, only 17 per cent of voters think the Coalition has a credible climate plan, with Labor only marginally higher at 20 per cent. Only eight per cent of voters think that ignoring climate change is an answer.

63 per cent of Australians now back carbon pricing.

Yet the climate crisis was barely mentioned by the major parties, over eight weeks of electioneering.


The result is an ambivalent mindset that has produced a potentially hung parliament. Frustrated voters have turned towards minors and independents. The electorate is saying 'a plague on both your houses'

Psychologically, our collective anxiety is growing, as we ignore the real threat.

All life on earth depends on air and an ideal cycle of oxygen and carbon. But since the beginning of the fossil fuel era, humans have been disturbing the delicate balance of the atmosphere. The air is speaking to us now and bringing us an increasingly deranged and unpredictable climate. We should heed its signals.

This was one of many personal insights I gained, huddled in a small dingy recording studio, with Dr Susie Burke and Vivienne Langford. We were speaking on Skype with Norwegian clinical and organisational psychologist and academic Dr. Per Espen Stoknes,

I had obsessively read, my now dog eared copy of his latest book titled, 'What We Think About- when we are trying not to think about –Global Warming.' I was receptive to his paradoxically calm yet urgent message that we needed to 'swerve' from our current dire trajectory.

Having thought a lot about the climate over many years, and drawing on extensive research, Stoknes identified the barriers that make us resist the reality of climate change. Scientists, environmentalist, and media can put us off thinking about climate. The doom and gloom - Armageddon is near - scenarios make us switch off.


Biologically and psychologically, we are receptive to immediate threats that are visible and close in time or space. We are plagued by 'short termism' avoiding what is caste as long term, or seemingly distant threats. In the developed world we identify with the fossil fuel age and continue to benefit from it. Warnings of end of century sea rise, flooding in Bangladesh and heat waves in India, seem comfortably remote. So we try to forget climate and get busy with daily living and immediate worries.

But at what cost?

The cognitive dissonance created by information about the damage we are doing to life on earth, conflicts with our desire to cling to much loved lifestyles and illusions. To resolve this conflict we deny, minimalize, or avoid. Our identities, beliefs and way of life, may be bound up in the status quo, leading to refusal to change things.

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The interview will be broadcast 5pm July 11 on Melbourne Community Radio 3CR  Beyond Zero Emissions.

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About the Author

Lyn Bender is a psychologist in private practice. She is a former manager of Lifeline Melbourne and is working on her first novel.

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