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Brain melt: Why we struggle to process climate doom

What can we do to respond to such statements?

“Humanity lives on thin ice, and that ice melts fast.”

“The ongoing climate change has caused great suffering around the world.”

“More poor people die. Every heatwave we experience, thousands die.


This week’s report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) prompted all of these people to speak out about climate change.

It summarizes all of the research they have done over the past five years on the causes, solutions, and impacts of climate change.

Is it making you feel like you can cut carbon, or do you prefer to scroll on to the next story? Let’s find out what happens when climate change meets our brains.

Sander van den Linden, a Cambridge University professor of Social Psychology, specializes in news response. He believes that fear can lead to paralysis.

“If you make things too scary for people, it can lead to disengagement. People might feel overwhelmed and not want to do anything.”

Image Venetia La Manna champions eco-friendly clothing

He believes that some concern is good.

Worry can be motivating. If you are sufficiently concerned, you will do your research and then take corrective actions. He says that he believes we all want the same thing regarding climate change.

“We want people to feel appropriately concerned and motivated to take corrective actions, not to the point that they run away or hide.”

He suggests that effective phrases include ‘experts agree that climate change is real, and it’s us. It’s also bad but there’s still hope’ or more people are changing their behavior to address climate change. This signalizes change within a group, which many of us respond to.

Venetia la Manna, a digital content creator, proved that social signals worked. When she was “called out”, she had already promoted plant-based diets and is now a champion for environmentally friendly clothing.

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“Someone commented, “great that you eat vegetables, but that you wear fast fashion, and that doesn’t really align.” She says that she went away and watched documentaries and read books.

“So it was, I suppose, being held online to account. It was clear that others had been looking at your work and suggesting that you make some changes.

“We often say, “Oh, you can’t make someone change” but I was publicly shamed.

Even though reports such as the IPCC are often portrayed as dire, it is not true. However, they do emphasize that, despite being on “thin ice”, we still have a chance.

A graph called “multiple opportunities to scale up climate action” is included in the document. It shows massive carbon-cutting options. Many of these solutions are inexpensive, cost-neutral, or even save money. The media prefers to sound the alarm, which is not surprising.

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Friederike Otto, a Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment author of the report, is also a member.

It sells partly because it has a dramatic story that includes fear or hysterics. This headline is more exciting. It’s important to emphasize that there is a serious threat, and that it’s already here. She says it’s not something that will happen in the future.

“But, we have the power to make it better and we must use that agency. The headline I believe is the most important would be: “We have an important job that we can do to improve life for all.” We can do it!

It is not enough to get the message about climate change right. To reach net zero, there will need to be systemic changes as well as political and economic ones. However, being engaged and not afraid would be a great help.


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