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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Climate change and the many faces of denial: A response on divestment

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Recently, in response to advocacy in favor of Carleton divesting from fossil fuel companies, the In- vestment Committee of the Board of Trustees wrote a letter indicating that when it came to climate change, Carleton’s Board of Trustees would pursue business as usual. It occurs to me: why does anyone have to bring this issue before the Board in the first place? Why does the Board allow the Investment Committee to set the terms when this is a profound moral as well as economic issue? Why isn’t the Board all over this issue, initiating divestment itself and thereby providing leadership? Is the Board’s problem part of the reason why our society is so slow to change its ways in the face of the threat of climate change? Despite assertions by the Investment Committee that we all recognize the problem, I am persuaded that this is not the case. Rather, I believe the Board’s response is part of a problem of mass denial, a failure in the consciousness of our society as a whole. By “mass denial,” I have in mind not one phenomenon, but rather a variety of ways of thinking and feeling that obscure the problem for us. In her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein explores this in some detail.

By “mass denial,” I am not only referring to the well-known professional public “climate deniers:” politicians, scientists, journalists, and pundits who are well paid lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry. I am thinking about people across our entire political spectrum that in one way or another turn away from seeing the problem. Indeed, Klein argues that in some instances, people who more openly deny man-made climate change do so because they understand better than others the true implications of admitting the problem. Klein argues that the problem of climate change is an unavoidable outcome of a form of unregulated capitalism in which wealthy interests and corporations have undermined our democracy, and that nothing short of fundamental systematic changes in the ways we live can save us and perhaps all species.

While those who adamantly deny the existence of man-made climate change may be in the minority, for the rest of us the denial is more subtle. This denial manifests itself as a turning away from the full scale of the problem and the implications, a faith that technological advances will somehow save us, or a faith that our government will, in the end, protect us.

In order to solve the problem of climate change, we will need a system in which “liberty” as a value is combined with “equality” and “fraternity/sorority”. In other words, we need a truly democratic and just socio-economic order in which the needs and interests of people and the other creatures which inhabit our planet are priorities over corporate profits. This means that all people who are opposing one injustice or another, one threat or another of this system ultimately have a stake in the struggle against climate change. And those of us focused on climate change have a stake in struggles for justice and human rights. The planet requires of each of us, including the members of Carleton’s Board of Trustees, a heightened sense of responsibility for what is happening in the world. It requires us to do whatever we can do to unite with others and to organize to solve the problem.

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