Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams: Shared Cosmology
Hidden Cost to Religion of Climate Change Denial
Humanity has become a jangle of cultures that were once nothing but exotic stories to each other. The past decades have thrown us together in a globalized economy, the Internet has made it personal, and now we’re having to deal with each other. All of us are the feared “Other” in somebody else’s mythology—that is, seeing us as Other is a force that binds them together. Seeing someone as Other is also a force binding my own “people” together, however I define my people. And that binding, that sense of a community to which each of us belongs and which will be faithful to us, is the most sacred thing to billions of people. It is their identity. A huge obstacle to global cooperation to conserve our planet is that so many people still live in a mental universe no bigger than Earth, so naturally they have to look for Others here, and they define the Other as other people.
The Other, we now scientifically know as we watch our planet change, is the laws of physics. Nature. It’s not the enemy; in fact, it’s not even separate from us. But it is the implacable, uncompromising Other, and we humans have to deal with it, whether we like it or not, or understand it or not. In this confrontation, all humans are on the same side of the negotiating table, and what’s on the other side is the laws of physics. But we don’t see the table or understand what’s at stake. We are in this together.
Glaciers will melt; the ocean level will rise; tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and heat waves will become more brutal and frequent because their physical causes have already occurred and are working their way through the atmosphere and oceans. These climate changes cannot be cancelled, but they can be minimized—or greatly amplified into utter chaos.
Climate change will come in degrees and terrifying jumps, leaping around the globe, scattering disasters on multiple time scales. But this may not be the final insult. The repetition of disasters, the millions of refugees, the endless cries for help and pleadings for financial contributions may numb us and make compassion a sentiment whose evolutionary cost becomes too high. If that happens, we lose not only the climate but our souls. And ironically, leading the charge toward soullessness are so many religious people.
Originally published on the SFGate.com City Brights Blog.
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