My email and social media feeds are full of outrage at Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
While this outrage is justified — Trump is literally playing with fire and the future of the human species — it is also an opportunity to look more deeply at ourselves.
In what ways has mainstream American society allowed this to happen through its complacency?
After all, though we know that climate change is one if not the most pressing issue now facing not only our nation, but humanity. Though we have known this now for many decades, what have we actually done in response?
Very little. We have not invested in the infrastructure that we need to combat climate change. We have not created the laws we need to curb greenhouse emissions. And our mainstream media rarely talks about the issue.
Though we have had more and more record-breaking hot years and more and more extreme weather disasters, business has not only gone on as usual, but accelerated: There are more SUVs on the road; median house size is bigger; agricultural practices remain largely unchanged; meat consumption also is largely unchanged.
We have had decades to respond to the threat of climate change. But little has been done.
Of course Paris was an important step. But if we are really speaking of our outrage, let’s look the issue clearly in the face and acknowledge how little has been done and how much truly demands to be done.
Perhaps Trump’s state of denial can act as a catalyst to wake us up from our own denial.
In the 2016 presidential debates, not one question was asked of Trump and Clinton about climate change and the environment. Our whole society is in part to blame for allowing a state of denial.
But we can no longer accept turning away from this issue.
Of all the pieces I’ve read about Trump, perhaps the most perceptive was Deepak Chopra’s piece about Trump as embodying America’s shadow side. Chopra writes:
But in reality Trump isn’t bizarre or anomalous. He stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret. Going back a century in the field of depth psychology, the secret side of human nature acquired a special name: the shadow.
Chopra sees the World Wars as times in which the human shadow overtook Europe and the world.
We are in danger of being overtaken by the shadow again. Faced with the imminent threat of climate change, we can either go into denial, as Trump is doing, or we can address it head on.
Of course, direct political action and international agreement has great power to address climate change. But it also, perhaps, has the power to lull us into more complacency.
Kyoto, Copenhagen, Paris: We are waiting for our leaders to create change so that we can go on with our lives.
But our leaders are not going to rescue us. We are going to need to wake up and demand change ourselves.
We are going to need to change the narrative.
We are going to need to look deeply at ourselves and ask ourselves, in the absence of top-down leadership: How can we all throughout our communities, big and small, take the steps necessary to look clearly at the danger and to shine a light on the shadow?
The science is clear. And much of the technology and know-how that we need to address climate change already exists.
So let’s turn some of our outrage into energy for actions that we ourselves can take. And let’s not turn away from this issue the day after tomorrow when the news cycle moves on.