Why Modern People Can’t Solve Big Problems Like Climate Change, War, and Poverty: The Illiberal Mindset
The human race had the best opportunity between 1979 to 1989 to avoid the era of catastrophe global warming and climate change will bring about, yet global leadership failed to act. In "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” Nathaniel Rich details the stories of those key people who tried to push governments around the world into action and the failure of leadership to lead. As Rich highlighted, people across the political spectrum and within pollution-intense industries were willing to confront and understand the threat of greenhouse gases. Although there are plenty of individuals to blame for inaction, and people can debate whether or not geopolitical plans to freeze and reduce carbon emissions could have been implemented, the failure to act in a way and on a scale proportionate to the threat reveals a great deal about human nature and the ability of modern people to solve modern problems.
Global warming has been a major cause for political activists and world leaders for decades. Their efforts to spread awareness have largely succeeded. People know what global warming and climate change are. They also understand much of the basic science as well as the potential impact on their communities. There is a segment of the population that subscribes to “climategate” conspiracies, but the vast majority of people believe in climate change and believe mankind has played a major role in accelerating it. What divides people are the solutions. To paraphrase, many progressives and those within underdeveloped countries want the developed world to bear the burden of climate change solutions; whereas, the US and other industrialized countries want shared responsibility. The geopolitical divide boils down to economics and competitive advantage. At the same time, there is also the issue of how to pay for climate change solutions and whether or not they should paid for.
Issues like climate change inflict costs, but accepting the existence of those costs is far different than paying to avoid them. Most people in the developed world have some kind of Insurance, which it is a way of paying less for costs that might materialize in the future. A car accident is something most people expect to avoid, but they see it as a potential and they recognize their insurance will likely cover the costs should they be involved in an accident. In the case of climate change, people see climate change on the horizon, but the costs to them are so indirect and so diffuse that it makes more financial sense just to deal with the consequences of climate change. Where auto insurance is likely to payout in the event of an accident, it is very difficult to see climate change solutions working to reduce the costs of climate change. Reaffirming this view, the December 14th, 2009 issue of Time featured an article by Bjorn Lomborg entitled "Beyond Copenhagen" that discussed how the cost of dealing with climate change would significantly be less than the cost of trying to limit global warming.
The point is, of course, not to deny climate change or avoid taking action. It is that people are, at best, only going to take action when they believe it will have a meaningful impact on their lives. Regrettably, the simple truth is that people are actually looking for an excuse to avoid taking action on any issue that does not have an immediate impact on their lives. A lot of people embraced minor solutions like recycling, because it was easy and made them feel good, but it was never even close to being enough to solve environmental issues like climate change. People like solar power, because it gives them free electricity. Many people want more fuel efficient cars to lower their fuel costs, as long as it does not impact their driving experience in a way that it is averse to them. When it comes to serious sacrifice for climate change, however, no one wants to pay. Quite frankly, now that climate change requires real sacrifice, few want to deal with it or pay attention to it.
Climate Change impacts every living thing on the planet, yet it is no longer politically en vogue. Given the mounting number of escalating crises around the globe, e.g. globalized terrorism, civil wars, trade wars, major world powers on the verge of war, and rising economic disparities, it is hard for average people and their political leaders to make climate change a top priority. Unfortunately, even more pressing and imminently destructive issues are still going unaddressed. It would seem world leaders cannot come together to solve anything. The Peoples of the world cannot come together to force action on any of the issues that already impact their lives. Like the failure to act on climate change, political shifts play a major role in the failure to act on others issues. As the Rich highlighted, the leadership of the 1970’s wanted to act for the sake of patriotism and the American way of life around the world. When the Nazis threat arose in the 1940’s, the Peoples of the developed world responded. Today, it could easily be an insurmountable struggle to mobilize the world.
The way people think has been changing and it is making it harder for the Peoples of the world to unite behind shared causes. International trends like globalization have transformed the way the Peoples of the world live and connect, but they have also changed the way people think. The democratization of the world’s population is one complex change. Another is the liberalization of the world’s people. Liberal countries and governments exist to serve the interests of their Peoples and empower them with civil liberties. The individual is the focal point of the liberal nation. The liberalization of the human race has made the lives of individuals matter. The illiberalization of the human race has, however, cultivated the worst aspects of human nature. It has inspired a “me” culture that emphases placing one’s own needs and desires over those of others and community. It is the kind of thinking that encourages people to absentmindedly hurt their communities and those in their lives to fulfill their impulses.
The illiberalization of people has cultivated the selfish and egocentric nature of individuals. For those who in power, it feeds an egoistically mindset that prevents them from seeing beyond their own ideas and preconceived notions. It also convinces them they are indispensable as leaders, thus they grasp onto power at the expense of their constituents. Humans are naturally selfish and egocentric, but they are also altruistic, introspective, and inquisitive. Where liberalization encourages people to look at each other as individuals and show concern for each others’ wellbeing, illiberalization primes the worst parts of human psychology. No longer does the welfare of the community or its members matter to the illiberal individual. People should be allowed to do as they please and those who hurt others harshly judged, when it is unavoidablely apparent, but they have no responsibility for the social consequences of their actions. Modern people cannot solve major issues, because they do not see their shared interests and responsibilities nor do they see themselves as members of a community. They certainly do not act as communities.
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