Environmental Irrationality and its Affective Solution

What keeps us from taking action for a healthy and just environment and intergenerational human well-being?

This is the first blog post of a series on environmental decision-making and why it takes us as individuals so much strength to join the collective struggle for a climate-just and environmentally sustainable future. And why we must do it, nonetheless.

Wellbeing cannot be individually grasped. Instead, it affects the individual within a community in relation to a specific cultural-natural environment. This understanding of wellbeing foregrounds one’s inherent embeddedness in an environmental and social system. Do not be fooled that your unconstrained consumption of food, water and energy does not generate consequences in your closer environment. Often times these consequences hit home delayed and trick your mind in believing that they are not related to your own decision-making behavior. But they will, and they do already.

If science does not convince you then perhaps your grandparents. Why not ask them about the changes of harvest yields, the length of droughts, the frequency of flooding and their impact on farming lands, or how they destroy houses and streets? Climate change and biodiversity loss are manifesting themselves in our neighborhoods, be it in rural or urban areas. But it does so differently across places in the world and is felt by individuals and their communities differently – be it in your city or the world more generally speaking.

Let’s move from abstractions to everyday realities. I am part of the Mitrovica team of GAIA and we have been devoting our energy to the construction of a rooftop garden on top of the library building of the city. Together with children and friends of GAIA and 7 Arte we crafted DIY raised beds, water irrigation systems, raised seedlings with love and care, and organized weekly meetings. These events were mostly visited by high school students from the city and our friends. Although modest in numbers, we were regularly visited by a few children who showed clear interest in what we are doing and to what ends we are taking our time to build a garden on top of a building in an urban environment. We certainly spent lots of time discussing the environmental and climate challenges already affecting the river flows of the local rivers, Ibar which is considered the most polluted river in Kosovo or Sitinica that shares an equal degree of heavy metal and bacterial pollution due to irregular domestic and industrial waste disposal, and how prolonged periods of draughts are damaging the harvest yields of local farmers, but also the health of older generations. These local challenges were then contextualized in global patterns of environmental degradation and climate change – just to make sure that Mitrovica’s case is no anomality and can be understood in relation to much wider environmental and social challenges. Despite passionate talks about climate change and its impact on water resources, often enough I would come across the phrase – but what should we do, we are only students and its mostly big industries and the political elite that does nothing against the consequences of a fossil-fuel reliant economy, deregulated market economy and non-standardized waste-management.

It should come only naturally that you begin to wonder what can you do against these localized global and interrelated consequences of our current way of living, consuming and producing? The possibilities are nearly as overwhelming as the gravity of the issue itself. One can and should do its part according to their own needs and demands. Instead of being exhausted by the mere thought that an individual could mitigate the pollution levels released by an outdated coal power plant, as it is the case in Kosovo – look into your backyard and take some time to consider your own CO2 footprint. If it was only enough to watch “Before the Flood”, be blown off your feet by the cinematic visions of climate change induced environmental and human suffering to make us move our comfortable butt. There is undeniable scientific proof that our unrestrained consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature resources is threatening our future. Perhaps, there is more to it.

Research about environmental decision-making points out to us that we deal with the environment similarly with the way we make decisions to consume and buy things in our daily life. A theory looking at these processes is called “Behavioral decision theory.” It refers to the nature of us being decision makers who are confronted with cognitive limitations, illusions and framing, self-control, updating, confirmation bias, identification with means/methods and heuristics/intuition. At the same time, our social, political and economic context that we live in is highly changing and unpredictive. Together, these dimensions of behavioral decision theory inform us with the different mental process that prevent us from taking action.

Well, this blog article will most likely not make you move as long as it tells you about distant threats that are far from your everyday reality and do not affirm what you believe to be true already. Bear with me because this blog is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that tries to bring afore different explanations on societal, cognitive, economic, political, cultural, religious or environmental factors that enable or disable our concrete contributions in the collective strive for climate just politics and a healthy.

What this means and how it affects your ability to make sustainable decisions that lead to environmentally friendly behavior and reinforces your positive attitudes towards climate and environmental action will be addressed in the next blog post.

It is getting hot in here -you know what to do!

Rosa.

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