The 26th attempt to resolve the climate crisis was made by the 26th COP26 climate summit held in Glasgow. The summit saw the following: Washington Post reported that countries have been under-reporting their emissions, so the negotiations are based on “flawed data.”
We’ve known about the climate crisis for decades. But in these ways and more, we’ve seen a painful, frustrating failure to meaningfully coordinate action on global scale. Still, that doesn’t have to mean that real cooperation is doomed to failure.
The COVID-19 pandemic was largely mitigated by the mobilization of large parts of the globe in just a few weeks. We could do the same for climate — and sociology can help us figure out how.
Kari Marie Norgaard, sociologist, advocates that sociologists be included in the discussion on climate change. This includes economists, natural scientists, and psychologists, who often play the role of experts.
People acting in groups are what cause climate change, and sociology studies people who act in groups. We can ask questions such as: Why is climate change being caused by people? Why won’t people do enough about it? How can we encourage people to do more?
Sociological research suggests that managing fear is a key part of the solution.
Norgaard found that people who appeared apathetic about the climate crisis actually knew and cared about it, but they avoided the subject because it caused painful emotions like helplessness, fear, and guilt.
COVID-19 also caused fear judging by the state the toilet paper aisle was at the outbreak of the pandemic. However, every organization, from intergovernmental organizations to the bottom, acted quickly in that instance. Individual coping strategies changed from panic buying to watching. Tiger King and baking bread.
Individuals acting alone couldn’t fix COVID-19 and they can’t fix climate change. It’s not enough to tell people to change their light bulbs. If the government wanted to, it could organize systemic change just as it did for pandemic.
Are there sociological lessons we could learn from this response?
In my research, I see government officials working with people across the political spectrum to manage the fallout from climate change — but without talking about climate change itself. They work together to combat wildfires, drought, and they make progress. If that’s what works for them, I’m for it.
Another recent meeting points out another way to beat climate change. The White House Tribal Nations Summit was attended by Indigenous leaders from across the United States. Government officials listened.
Native leaders stressed the importance of their traditional ecological knowledge, not only for Native Americans but for the entire nation. They have been living on this land since the beginning of time, and their knowledge predates European conquest. Many of the speakers at the summit spoke highly of the importance of co-management. This is where tribal nations and U.S. governments share the management of natural resource.
Upholding tribal sovereignty and honoring treaties signed with tribal nations is the right thing to do because it’s the right thing to do. The U.S. could also benefit from Indigenous knowledge, and co-managing our natural resources.
The world has demonstrated that it can quickly respond to a crisis. It must do so in the face of climate change. It must also address the inequity that exists between countries that have disproportionately contributed to climate change and those who are most affected by it.
Sociology can help. If I’m ever asked to be a good citizen, I will wear sweatpants and binging. Bridgerton I will continue to do my part.