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“We destroy nature, but we never fully realize the extent of the damage”

By Audrey Garric

Posted today at 12:10 p.m.

Psychologist Peter H. Kahn, in 2014.

Peter H. Kahn is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, and director of a laboratory that studies human interactions with nature and technology. It calls for rethinking our relationship to nature and other humans in order to solve the climate crisis.

Scientists have been warning about the environmental crisis for several decades, its impact is worsening all over the world, and yet mobilization remains weak. Why are we not acting up to the urgency?

There are many contributing reasons: people’s focus on the short term and their seemingly endless desire for consumption; large corporations, when their business models profit from environmental damage and sometimes contribute to misinformation; divisive politics, where group identities are built around skepticism towards science in general, and climate science in particular. There is also the fact of throwing the responsibility on others. Or to postpone the effort until later, like a drug addict who puts off his detox treatment until the next day. But tomorrow never comes. Finally, there is the problem of environmental generational amnesia.

What is it about ?

We all construct a conception of what is environmentally normal based on the natural world we encounter as children. The crux of the matter is that the degree of environmental degradation increases with each generation, but each new generation tends to regard this degraded condition as the undegraded condition, as the normal experience. For example, my research shows that children who grow up in heavily polluted cities hardly know that their city is polluted, because pollution is normal for them. So, as human beings, we destroy nature, but we never fully realize the extent of the damage and loss, because we refer to a nature that we knew when we were children.

However, the population is directly experiencing more and more extreme climatic events…

We are also starting to normalize extreme weather conditions. Events that we are told are only supposed to happen every hundred years, or every thousand years, now happen regularly. And, as this accelerates, we begin to accept that we are in a new era. There is no revolution, no mass movement calling for a change of way of life.

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