Fatalism is defined as a belief that events are fixed in advance so that humans are powerless to change them1. In relation to Climate Change, fatalism is essentially the belief that a changing climate is inevitable, that the path to the worst, most destructive aspects will happen and there is nothing humankind can do about it. In an online survey in late 2017 by Ipsos on behalf of The Climate Group and Futerra, 14% of those surveyed globally believed in Climate Change Fatalism, with the feeling stronger amongst younger demographics (22% in the age group from 16-35).
In studying Climate Change at the Australian National University, one of the first philosophical discussions was around fatalism and the difficulty of implementing Climate Change policies if people have given up hope. And if there is no hope, then there’s no point in making any effort to stop polluting or make changes that encourage a lower carbon future. This pessimism is to be avoided as much as possible as it inevitably leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate the Climate Change problem as people see moves towards renewable technologies or changes in lifestyle and purchasing habits as pointless.
Unfortunately, Climate Change fatalism seems to have crept into governmental mentalities in a number of countries. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in July for proposals relaxing fuel efficiency rules. The EIS details the impacts of Climate Change extensively, including the expectation for surface temperatures to rise by nearly 3.5oC by 2100. While the NHTSA doesn’t develop its own evidence or claim to draw conclusions relating to climate change, it has tacitly argued that relaxing the rules around fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks is acceptable as the subsequent increase in greenhouse gas emissions would be “minor” in comparison.
It doesn’t end there. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing policies around oil and natural gas air pollution standards that would relax how companies monitor and repair methane leaks. And the US announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, with its aspirational target of limiting global warming to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels, doesn’t bode well given the US is the 2nd largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases behind China.
Overcoming Climate Change fatalism may prove as difficult as Climate Change itself. There are no easy solutions. Psychologists will point to the need to change the narrative to encourage optimism instead of pessimism, and further encourage people by demonstrating what has already been achieved in order to open people’s minds to what can be achieved in the future. Ultimately, in line with the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) rather alarming Special Report on 1.5oC, it will take every possible technological solution available, as well as behavioural and lifestyle changes, such as a reduction in energy demand and dietary shifts. There’s simply no room for fatalism if the world is to stem the risks of catastrophic Climate Change impacts.
1 Mirriam-Webster Dictionary
Featured Images/Charts: #ClimateOptimist Campaign at www.climateoptimist.org