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Why we tend to ignore climate change: Teitel

For the first time in modern history, a river changed direction almost overnight. This happened not by the awesome hand of God (or the wooden staff of Charlton Heston), but by the perfectly ordinary human hand of climate change. In more scientific terms, news emerged this week that the gigantic Kaskawulsh Glacier in the Yukon receded so extensively, its “meltwater” actually changed course. As a result, it is now flowing into an entirely different body of water. The scientists who made this discovery last summer call the water-rerouting phenomenon, “River Piracy.” River Piracy: it sounds like a really bad indie rock band listed in fine print at the bottom of a Coachella poster. Unfortunately for Planet Earth, it’s an adverse environmental event of biblical proportions — an event that highlights just how suddenly and significantly climate change can impact the world — and even more troubling, an event that is likely the consequence of human behaviour. In other words, it’s big news. Big, bad news. Yet it doesn’t feel like it at all. Why is this? Because even though climate change is a problem routinely dubbed “The Issue of Our Time” by scientists, journalists and world leaders, it also happens to be an issue we appear to know and care very little about. A river suddenly changing course for the first time in modern history is news that should provoke the kind of fiery Facebook rhetoric and debate that follows a Donald Trump Twitter tirade, but it doesn’t. Instead, it falls as flat as an arctic plain. Article Continued BelowI’m not judging anybody here. I am just as guilty of ignoring The Issue of Our Time as the next person who absent-mindedly throws her apple core in the garbage can. The first time I read about the receding Kaskawulsh Glacier, I abandoned the story halfway through when my eyes caught another breaking news alert: “Prince Harry Reveals He Sought Counselling in Aftermath of Princess Diana’s Death.” If only Prince Harry lived at the bottom of a melting glacier. Perhaps we’d take a greater interest in the planet’s health if it were bound up in the health of the royal family.Alas it is not. So, research shows, we keep on ignoring a global problem we deem too big and confusing to curtail. But why do we do this even in the face of disturbing environmental events? And what will it take to get us fired up about something called River Piracy? American social psychologist David Dunning says the prevailing barrier to mass interest in climate change is “Presentism,” i.e. a preoccupation with the present moment. “The major human tendency that often seems to be in play,” Dunning says, “is that people are much more interested in what’s happening now — today. Things that are more far off in the future, people have a harder time getting motivated about.”

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