Environmental Apathy: Overexposure and Under Action

It has been five years since I took my German GCSE, and whilst most of what I learnt has sadly faded into obscurity, one of the few words or phrases I remember is die ‘Treibhausgasemissionen’ (greenhouse gas emissions). Why has this word stuck in my head? Well, it could be because it is so quintessentially German: very logical and composed of several different words. Or it could be because it was part of a wider topic of environmental issues which must have piqued my interest, therefore earning a place in my long-term memory. I find it interesting that conversations around the environment and global warming have been set out in textbooks, news articles, mentioned on television and yet we still seem to be pressing ‘snooze’ on the ever-louder alarm clock of the planet.

Some of my first encounters with the climate crisis were in my early teens, yet our dying planet was framed as a conversational topic. It was placed on the same level as “What I did at the weekend.” I wonder if this trivialisation of the climate crisis is what makes it so easy for many of us to ignore it.

I remember reading an article by Owen Jones around seven months ago entitled “Why don’t we treat the climate crisis with the same urgency as Coronavirus?” He talks about how differently the two emergencies are treated. One is presented as an abstract concept, the consequences of which are imagined to be a distant problem for future generations, the other is (rightly so) treated as an immediate threat, the consequences of which are being felt now. Of course, at the time he was writing, only 3,000 people worldwide had contracted Coronavirus, so Jones could not have predicted the scale and severity of this disease and how it has impacted our daily lives.

Yet I still feel Jones' point is worth lingering on. To believe the myth that the environmental emergency is an unimportant problem is to turn a blind eye to the very real consequences that are happening now. To name a few: The Corals on the Great Barrier Reef have more than halved over the past 25 years, many researchers have found that up to 40% of the Amazon Rainforest is at a tipping point of being closer to becoming a Savannah than a rainforest. According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, one-fifth of the world’s countries are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing because of the decline in biodiversity and destruction of wildlife and their habitats. These are just some of the headlines from this month, all of which come with very serious and very real environmental problems that we are facing right now.  

Environmental apathy is killing our planet. Perhaps it is the constant low-level exposure that we receive from the media that causes us to zone out. If we are to have a chance at curbing this climate emergency, meeting the Paris agreement (which, as it stands, we are woefully short of making) and having an inhabitable planet for future generations, we must treat it with the same coverage and urgency as the Coronavirus pandemic. It must dominate the news, no longer fading into the background but be printed as front-page headlines. We must lobby for change, hold governments to their promises and hold businesses who flagrantly exploit our planet for economic gain accountable.

Our toolkit for combatting this climate disaster needs to consist of more that ‘Treibhausgasemissionen sind nicht so gut für die Umwelt’ (yes, I had to look up the German for ‘environment.’ As I said, I only remember the one word…). To quote the face of environmental activism herself, Greta Thunberg, ‘To get out of the climate crisis, we need a different mindset from the one that got us into it. People like me – who have Asperger’s syndrome and autism, who don’t follow social codes – we are not stuck in his social game of avoiding important issues.’ In adopting a ‘different mindset’, we can liberate ourselves from this ‘social game’ of avoidance, stop pressing snooze, and wake up to the ‘Tier 3’ alert of our planet.