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Climate change and ear covering

FEBRUARY 20, 2012
by Daniel Smith ’14, Contributing Writer

Do you remember when your parents used to tell you to cover your ears? Whether they did it to use profane language, mute the loud whirring of a blender or to say things that would have taken far too much time to spell out, you did as you were told.

According to Kari Marie Norgaard, this practice has now become integrated into our society’s views about climate change.

During her talk in Burgiss Theater Friday, she said “What looks like public apathy is socially organized denial. Our failure to engage is active and collectively produced. It’s a collective experience of covering your ears.”

A professor of sociology & environmental studies at the University of Oregon, Norgaard’s lecture was titled “Living In Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Every Day Life.” She said the public often eschews the debate to protect themselves from a potentially frightening truth. She postulated that thoughts about climate change bring feelings of guilt, fear of the future, and helplessness in the face of such an abstract..

She also said that our ignorance of climate change is very much an active decision.

“The notion that well-educated, wealthy people in the northern hemisphere do not respond to climate change because they’re poorly informed fails to capture how, in the present global context, ‘knowing’ or ‘not knowing’ is itself a political act.”

For Norgaard, the presence of this active decision is also evident in the concept of selective attention, which she described as “how people normalize what they know, and recreate a safe sense of the world.”

So what are the consequences of collective ignorance? Norgaard believes “climate change poses the most extensive threat to social organization to date,” in that “climate skeptic movements undermine the centrality of facts and science as the basis for democratic organization.”

Last updated February 20, 2012
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