Staying Balanced

It’s not easy to maintain personal balance in times like these; perhaps it never has been. It’s hard sometimes to maintain a positive outlook on life, to care for our children, to continue to be vigilant about self-care and to be there for others, while at the same time keeping global issues like climate change in perspective.

Climate change will make for a very confusing century or two in human history. We continue to be subjected to a daily bombardment from the media doomsayers. But for most, there are as yet only limited alternatives to driving to work or heating our homes.

Nevertheless, we work, we feed our families and we enjoy living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. We spend time with friends and family. We still shop and play, albeit a little closer to home than we did a decade ago. We are perhaps a little more aware of our essential interconnectedness. We fall in love.

What is the psychology of a whole community sinking into a state of gloom and pessimism about an issue such as climate change? It can’t be just that it’s serious, because there are far more good things happening than bad.

Don’t get me wrong; I know climate change could be taking the human race towards catastrophe. I’ve been involved in trying to do something about pollution for thirty-some years, beginning with Pollution Probe in the seventies.

Any explanation of the expanding gloom and doom mentality requires the concept of "groupthink.” Wikipedia: "Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance."

The very real human tendency to pull together in times of crisis produces a need for unanimity in our thinking. We need to pull together if we are going do anything about global warming. Then it becomes harder for each of us to tolerate those who choose to voice opinions contrary to the prevalent belief.

The doomsayers would have us believe the sky is falling and climate change is about to destroy society. With groupthink, the desire to maintain unanimity of thought may be so strong that critical thinking is suspended. And the suspension of critical thinking is what makes groupthink powerful.

But there is a dangerous downside to groupthink. I have witnessed mammoth environmental damage brought about by well-meaning, uninformed environmental crusaders following a popular leader.

We need to remember we are always free to make personal choices. If we become aware of groupthink, we can decide not to participate. We can regain a more balanced perspective by turning off the TV news and being more selective about who we believe. When we break out of groupthink, we may find we have been neglecting self-care, or failing to do things just for fun, or neglecting our own continuing education.

Let us individually refuse to participate in the groupthink of pessimism and hopelessness about climate change. Instead, let us take our own counsel and quietly reuse and recycle, walk more and drive greener cars as we replace our old ones. By the way, have you heard about the car that runs on air?

While still keeping our own counsel, we can take advantage of the groupthink to vocally repudiate over-packaging, demand cleaner sources of electricity, and force changes to bylaws and building codes in support of cleaner practices. Did you know that present codes in Canada forbid using grey water to flush toilets or water gardens?

And finally, the present groupthink about climate change provides each of us with more leverage for holding our politicians accountable.