Cognitive Psychology

Climate Change = Increases in Demagoguery, Nationalism, Authoritarianism, Violence, and Cruelty

Climate change has been in the news a lot over the past week or so what with the massive fires having been burning for weeks in the Amazon and fires in the forests of Russia. It’s been all over the news in spite of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s incessant jactation and dissociative fugue on display at the G7 summit, Russia’s return to reckless nuclear brinkmanship, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s inability to keep whacking the economy with tariffs, and the news about Notorious RBG’s cancer treatment. Even with all this other bad news floating around the cesspool of current events, I can’t get the stench of climate change off of me.

I guess, like maybe most people, I could mouth the words of climate change and all the ways that it is changing the world, but I hadn’t really groked climate change until we witnessed the fires in the Amazon threatening the very oxygen with breath and the possibility of complete destroying the Amazon. At least not down in the deep pit of existential angst that I use for a soul.

Exhausted fisheries, declining crop yields, deteriorating infrastructure, lost tourism, and extreme weather damages all stemming from climate change

Trump White House issues climate change report undermining its own policy on vox

Given that we can no longer deny that our dystopian nightmare season of American Horror Story is about to plot-twist the knife of a climate collapse killing off billions into the drama, it kinda got me thinking about what effect climate change might have on our individual and collective psyches.

Our Bleak Future If…

From the looks of it, we might very well be living in a Russia-inspired dystopian delusion of democracy as #MoscowMitch and his rag-a-muffin band of merry Repube hobgoblins gnaw out the heart of our democratic institutions, poison our democratic traditions, and strangle our democratic norms, in order to replace them with single-party, pseudo-democratic authoritarianism. Even if the Dems win the next election, the damage done to our democracy will take a generation, at least, to repair. If you add a heaping helping of climate collapse on top of that, it could be the end of liberal Western democracy.

We are facing a future fraught with shortages, hardships, and misery, let’s see what science says the human reaction to that is likely to be! First, though, what is climate change? And, how bad is it likely to get?

Signs, Symptoms, and Consequences of Climate Change

The National Climate Assessment

All of us are painfully aware of all the rising temperatures, extreme heat, weird weather, worsening fires, longer hurricane season, more frequent droughts, rising sea levels, and other symptoms of accelerating climate change. Perhaps, you’re even aware of the National Climate Assessment report that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber kept up his ass and dared anyone to reach in and grab it. You know the one that the administration is legally bound by actual real live law to write and release since 1990. You know the one that 13 federal agencies collaborate on including NASA and the Department of Defense.

You know the one that said that climate change could cost the US economy hundreds of billions because of exhausted fisheries, declining crop yields, deteriorating infrastructure, lost tourism, and extreme weather damages all stemming from climate change.

Predictions in the NCA

As the global temperatures continue to climb, the report makes these predictions on how it will affect these United States:

  • Increasing the scarcity of water. Already major US river systems are experiencing major reductions in the amount of fresh water available for human, household, agricultural, and industrial use. That’s only going to get worse.
  • Decreasing quality of water. We can all live in Flint! See, no discrimination here! That’s equality. And, no worries, once everyone is suffering from lead poisoning, it’ll be like no one is! #Silverlining!
  • Deteriorating air quality. The quality of our air is going to diminish because of rising temperatures and nitrogen and other pollutants that we add.
  • Spreading diseases. As the climate changes the ranges of various insects and rodents will change with it. We’re already seeing Zika carrying mosquitoes in the US. We’ll have other tropical disease invading our subtropical areas, too. Already existing temperate zone insect-borne diseases will spread further, too. Lyme disease anyone?
  • Decreased food production. Our ability to produce food will be severely affected. Growing seasons and plant ranges will shift dramatically. Increased flooding and rainfall will wash away topsoil from our fertile Great Plains at an even faster rate. Food prices will rise. Quantity and quality will decrease.
  • Rising energy costs. Producing electricity will become more expensive even as the use of renewable energy sources rises. Go figure. Partly to blame is our aging infrastructure, especially our power grid. But, fear not, we’ll have Infrastructure Week any day now and fix all of that.

As the resources fundamental to our lives become scarcer and more expensive, our view of the world will change substantially. Water, air quality, food, energy, transportation, housing, recreation all will worsen either through scarcity, rising costs, or both. And, lucky for us, science tells us what happens when we have increased competition for decreasing resources.

The Scarcity Mindset

Scarcity mindset is a description of how a reduction in resources affects our ability think and make decisions. Apparently, as resources get scarce, we become preoccupied with acquiring the basic necessities and due to that we develop a kind of tunnel vision: the inability fully evaluate a decision. We end up paying what has been called a “bandwidth tax” or experiencing increasing difficulty when considering anything other than our need for the now absent resources.

Scarcity and Groupthink

It sounds like a kind of groupthink. And, it is something that larger and larger segments of the world’s population will suffer from as climate change reduces the ability of our climate to sustain seven and a half billion people. So, one thing we’ll face is a deterioration in our group decision making. Not only will we decide to do stupid stuff, we’ll also decide to do immoral and unethical stuff as well!

Interestingly — in the same way a shark bite can be interesting — this little mindset doesn’t stop giving there. Its effects are felt even if there isn’t any real scarcity, just perceived scarcity. You just have to believe that you are poor and you will reap the benefits of falling IQ points and ignoring obvious choices.

Aside #1: This is one way the Repubes have trapped poor conservative voters: they constantly promote a zero-sum view of the world. It goes like this:

  • The brown population is growing through natural population growth, immigration, asylum seekers and refugees, and undocumented entry.
  • As the brown population grows, the opportunities that are waiting for you just around the corner, are being taken away.
  • Those brown people suddenly came in and took your American Dream just as it was fixing to be your turn!
  • The liberals have handed your turn for the American Dream, the turn you’ve waited patiently for, earned, and deserve, over to the browns! They don’t deserve. They haven’t earned it. Liberals just give it to them because they hate freedom.

Why would mother evolution endow us with a scarcity mindset just at the time we are going to need our full faculties to escape the famine and drought? It doesn’t make sense! Or does it?

Scarcity and Evolution

Remember, our brains use up 20% of our energy. If you are experiencing a radical reduction in calories, you’re going to want to limit that gas hog in your cranium. And, all this scarcity hardware evolved when scarcity meant starvation. So, scarcity doesn’t limit or diminish our capacity for thought, just our willingness to engage in it. It is a way to save energy to help us survive the drought for famine.

The scarcity mindset can be triggered without actually starving! As soon as those Repube pols start singing that sweet lullaby into our ears, a multitude of cognitive abilities get cut off as the scarcity mindset takes over: planning, impulse control, attention. Ironically, these are the very skills you’ll need to escape scarcity! Isn’t mother nature wonderful?

Just like all of our other psychological tools, this one evolved to help us survive on the savannas of Africa, not in the metropolises of the modern post-industrial fully developed nations. It works about as well in our thoroughly modern lives as being able to do calculus would in the hunter-gatherer life.

Aside #2: Don’t this sound a lot like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber? Don’t he fear and worry after his moneys all the time? Don’t he feel like he ain’t ever had enough and won’t never will? Could we end this national nightmare if we all just joined hands, mounted our unicorns, ate our heart-shaped cupcakes, sang Kumbaya, and rode over the rainbow bridge with the Ol’ Pussy Grabber? We could fill that there man with love and plenty and his heart would grow three sizes, his shoes would fit right, and his head would get screwed on tight. Pardon me, I just threw up a little in my mouth. I will now attempt to pickle my brain in scotch.

Fear and Voting Conservative

We know that people who are afraid tend to vote conservative. It is another incentive for conservative politicians to demagogue PoC, crime, and economic anxieties. I don’t know about you, but contemplating climate change and the horrendous hardships that are going to come with it, fills me with some fear. In the same way that scarcity limits our cognitive ability to resolve the scarcity, it limits our political ability to, too. It keeps you voting for the reds.

In-Group Versus Out-Group

We know that people categorize themselves and everyone around them into social groups. The group we call our own is the in-group. All the groups that are not the in-group are the out-group. Often, in-group members will trash talk out-group members. Often, in-group members will exaggerate the similarities between the members of the in-group and exaggerate the differences between the in-group and out-group. When allowed to go to extremes, these exaggerations lead to harmful stereotypes, bias, bigotry, discrimination, and racism. Real harms can be inflicted onto real people.

One reason we trash talk the out-group and talk up the in-group is to sharpen the distinction between them. Scarcity tends increase the probability of intergroup conflict, or in the vernacular fighting between groups. It also tends to sharpen the distinction between in-group and out-groups. If you’re worried about where your next meal or next drink of water is coming from or who’s dumping shit into the air upwind from you, you tend to dislike those that are taking that food and water outta your mouth and soiling the air you hafta breath. As we perceive that the needs of our in-group are not being met, we are more likely to become physically aggressive with out-groups to secure resources. You know justifiable war and all that.

Aside #3: Don’t this seem like some kind of sick twisted perfect storm spiraling and twisting across the landscape of our society? We stoke the perceived scarcity — They’re replacing you! They’re taking over your country! They’re ruining your culture! We stoke conflict between groups. We arm members of one group, especially. We make laws about committing violence in specific circumstances, i.e. stand-your-ground laws, laxer. And, then we watch in real time as real physical violence and harm is visited upon PoC’s by whites. It’s almost like someone read the psychological studies and knew what they were doing. It’s almost enough to make you believe in conspiracy theories.

The Role of Obedience and Conformity

We also know that if an authority figure stands around telling you to murder an unnamed faceless other person, 66% of us will. So, as climate change drives scarcity and fear, the differences between groups will become more distinct. As fear and anxiety and competition are ratcheted up, the likelihood of intergroup conflict will increase. The pressure to join a group will increase. The feeling of being in a zero-sum game where if the other side gets something, it means we lose something, and what we lose is a vital fundamental life-sustaining resource.

If you thought caging-children was ugly. If you thought ignoring the physical health needs of children was horrible. If you thought that inflicting maximum psychological harm on children was damning. If you thought denying terminally, seriously, chronically, or all three ill children and their families compassionate exception visas to get treatment in this country after they’ve been here for years getting life sustaining treatments, was one of the most inhumane moves by this admin. You ain’t seen nothing yet. If shit got real with the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, shit is about to turn into hyper-shit, and it is about to get hyper-real as we inch closer to climate collapse.

We know that the only hope we have of protecting ourselves from committing atrocities against another human being is to remember the humanity of the other human being. It is to recognize that we as individuals have choices and we as individuals can choose whether to harm a human being or not.

We know that the only prayer we have of beating the scarcity mindset is to focus on abundance among the things we can control, and to focus on the ties that bind us together as people across in-group/out-group lines.

12 replies »

  1. When the question becomes, or is believed to be, “Will my (or, Our) children eat, or will that other guy’s (or, those other people’s) eat?” then things get maximum ugly. And, when real scarcity kicks in (like in Syria and a few other places) the in-group shrinks. I have a prediction: Within 10 years, maybe 5, the Europeans will no longer be trying to rescue people trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa. They will be sinking them on sight. There’s no point in having a moat if you don’t defend it. And, whether or not Trump gets his wall, somebody will. It won’t be a “Big Beautiful Wall” of concrete and steel, just razor wire and machine guns and land mines with a kill zone on the other side, unless there is no money for it because of all the domestic expense of dealing with climate change, or the effective collapse of the Federal Govt. Will the folks in Ohio be happy to receive the refugees fleeing the flooding of the coastal cities? They don’t like those “Coastal Elite” types anyway. Expect NIMBY on steroids. There will be a lot going on that will make much of the dystopian Sci-Fi of the past 50 years look like failures of imagination. On that note, how about a song?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      I spent a week or so think about the issue. The more I thought the more pessimistic I became. It is as depressing as it is predictable. Even though it is predictable, we won’t do anything to stop it. We’ll try to stop the isolationist atrocities from happening with all the persistence and effectiveness with which we’re trying to stop climate change. Politicians will try to use the issue for political gain by fanning the flames.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Alas, the politicians will indeed. I think about Trump and the border and immigration issues. He has no real interest in actually solving the problems. Witness the cut-off of aid to the Central American source countries. He is counting on the problem getting worse for his reelection, or, at least, not getting better. He’s getting too much mileage out of it with his base. His real Achilles Heel at this point is the tariff war threatening a recession. That prospect pisses off people who can matter to him.

        That brings up another speculation. If whoever is managing his stock & bonds portfolio were to have a high frequency trading predictive AI reading his Tweets as he types them before he hits “Send”, he could, just by saying the things he says anyway be making a lot of money without ever placing a sell or buy order himself, or planning the effect on the markets. He would consider that very smart and a good use of his office.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!
          One of the saddest trends in our democracy is the election of increasingly crass and cynical politicians who are willing to do what ever they think they need to to garner votes. Sadder is the election of politicians who believe their own rhetoric.The ones who really do think that slashing gov’t spending is going to magically fix the problems in the country. The ones who think that voter ID laws will actually help democracy. Or the ones who believe women’s healthcare has to be limited and directed by the government for the good of all. Nearly all of those conservative policies that no one ever really believed in but were only used to get votes are now believed by many of the elected officials who espouse them.

          I gotta delve into work or something here because I’m really starting to despair over our future. I’m hoping that the Great Civics Lesson of 2016 has taught enough people how our system works and gotten enough engaged that we can right the ship and steer a course to calmer seas, but I don’t know how much I believe it any more.

          I’m starting to believe there is more of conspiracy here than we previously thought. That there is some unholy alliance between Putin and evangelical Christians or something. Where the payoff for the Christians is bringing about the Rapture and the pay off for Putin is disabling liberal Western democracies.

          I’m starting to believe that Putin thinks climate collapse will be a good thing for Russia. That he can work it to his advantage.

          If any of that is true, it will take a helluva lot of organizing of a large unwieldy multitude to defeat it.


          Liked by 1 person

          • There certainly does seem to be a convergence of interest between politicians who (a) believe their own snake oil, (b) place winning over getting it right, (c) don’t care what happens in the world after they die so long as they hold power until then, and the End Times “Christians” who don’t believe in an actual future for the existing world. Putin probably does think Russia can benefit from climate collapse if it also means the collapse of Western Liberal Democracy. He is almost surely wrong, but revenge on The West and especially the USA is his major concern.

            As depressing as all that may be, still we have to take our best shots to change that future.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!
              Yes, yes we do. As I sit talking to my 14 year old daughter, we most certainly do. And, we have a great chance of achieving it still. We have some very good people working on it and getting more every day.


              Liked by 1 person

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