It was the fall of 1962, and people throughout the United States and the world gathered to protest against a potential nuclear catastrophe, now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. For a moment it seemed the entire world was motivated and united under a single cause. And nobody in their right mind would have doubted the veracity of the threat, which was eventually solved.
Today we live in a different world, where the authenticity of events broadcast by the media are regarded with suspicion. We tune in to what’s convenient for us, and tune out to what’s not. Confirmation bias is no longer a psychological fallacy but a virtue. Accepting certain truths can conjure fears of disloyalty to our tribe.
In the early 1960’s the average family TV had no more than five channels. Today’s cable networks offer hundreds, plus the endless array of “information” websites and Youtube channels, where any individual with a keyboard and a heartbeat can create their own “news channel”. If they’re charismatic enough they can amass a legion of cult-like followers who believe whatever fits into their world view.
Everything from the circumference of the Earth to recent mass shootings are subject of baseless, illogical conspiracy theories attempting to disavow their veracity. It’s no surprise, then, that human induced climate change has been at the forefront of denial. Amazingly, the perpetrators of such theories have reached the pinnacle of world power, adding perceived “legitimacy” to denialist beliefs.
Meanwhile, as a result of our warming planet, unprecedented wildfires have ravaged land areas surrounding the Arctic. Greenland is losing ice at a record pace, contributing to sea level rise that will threaten coastal cities around the world, and Europe recently went through one of its worst heatwaves in history. And yet, the Amazon rainforest, home to the world’s most diverse species and a buffer against global warming, has been set ablaze by farmers (backed by the president of Brazil) making room for cattle (meat, anyone?), virtually guaranteeing its total collapse in due time.
And here we are, sitting at home, watching our favorite TV show or reading some online article that contradicts scientific consensus on a given topic, confused and distracted, unconcerned about any particular issue (which, of course, benefits the fossil fuel and livestock industries).
There’s no doubt that some people do know what’s going on and are trying to help at an individual level. Some choose to invest in solar energy for their homes, go vegan for the environment, and reduce the amount of trash they produce. There’s a protest group called Extinction Rebellion that has garnered global attention for demanding action against climate change. But considering the magnitude of our predicament, and where we’re probably headed, we’ve been eerily silent as a whole. And It may not be long before we wish life was as easy as it was during the fall of 1962.