Cognitive Dissonance: Why Are We So Complacent in the Face of Climate Change?

bolivia

Elizabeth Peredo Beltran

It has rained incessantly recently in the Bolivian Amazon and in the Valleys. The waters that have flooded our territory since January, are thought to be the result of the worst rains in 40 years. More than 60,000 families have been affected—at least 350,000 people have had to leave their homes.

They have lost almost everything they own: their animals, their crops, their daily lives. UNICEF has reported that 60,000 Bolivian children have been affected. Nine hundred schools have had to suspend activities for almost a month due to high risk. More than fifty people have died and some of their bodies have still not been recovered. And we cannot yet tell what the magnitude of the impact on health, food and the ability of communities to rebuild their lives will be as the floodwaters recede and the extent of the destruction is slowly revealed. One small example of how poverty triggers the vulnerability of communities comes from the situation of the indigenous people in the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) communities.Screen-Shot-2014-05-23-at-3.05.57-PM

Though reports speak of huge losses of corn, rice, potatoes, soybeans, vegetables and livestock—with estimates of more than 250,000 head of cattle missing—it remains to be seen in the next few months what the economic impact of floods will be for these peoples themselves, and what the impact will be at both regional and national levels.

In the face of the dramatic situation presented by this disaster both authorities and civilians across the whole country have mobilized to collect food, medicines and everything necessary to bring help to the affected communities. Above and beyond, these good intentions to come together to provide aid for those affected by the floods in the Amazon region and in the Bolivian valleys, we were far from being capable of confronting the dimension of such a disaster. Rainfalls are also far from being recognized as not an occasional event but rather as climate change events that will only repeat more frequently in the future.

Not far from this region, droughts are hitting hard: in both the Chiquitanía region and the Chaco regions of Santa Cruz and Tarija there have been losses of thousands of hectares of crops, which is resulting in a silent forced migration to the cities. Just some months back the Bolivian Defence Ministry reported 247,000 hectares of land affected by the lack of rain, by snow or by fire. Meanwhile the loss of our glaciers is a sorrow to which we are becoming accustomed.

Climate change is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just something which is of exclusive interest to UN negotiations, nor it is a warning for the future: it is already present in our times, in our territories and it comes with violence. Climate change affects people’s lives and it is already claiming many victims.

We share this grief with millions of people across the planet who are suffering the same consequences. Just a few months back more than 11 million people were affected by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. A million people were without electricity after snowstorms caused by the late winter polar vortex in the U.S. Thousands of people affected in the UK in what was considered the worst flooding in 200 years. Thousands of hectares of forest burned annually in Australia by the alarming drought and heat. Thousands affected in Central America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay and other countries. Twenty-five million souls were driven into uncertainty by water shortages, the result of droughts and heat waves in California. A deadly landslide with more than one hundred people missing in Washington State, the result of heavy rains. Millions of humans and ecosystems at risk in various parts of the world … News that nobody wants to hear, but which we will inevitably be forced to confront in our own lifetimes, even though the news appears first as cold statistics in the press.

We need to connect the dots to realise that climate change is a phenomenon that challenges us to overcome short-term visions and the empty rhetoric of “Mother Earth,” devoid of concrete actions. Climate change is a consequence of the violent exploitation of nature, of endless economic growth systems based on fossil fuel consumption, understood as an irreplaceable condition for human “welfare.” This obsolete idea has been inculcated into our lives on a social, a psychological and on a cultural level. Continue reading

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