We have been too slow to address the future risks of climate change.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
We humans are hard-wired to react to perceived immediate risk, but much less so in terms of distant risk. Hence, we have been slow to address the future risks of climate change and instability.
That falling short includes us psychiatrists and mental health professionals. When I started my climate activism 15 years ago, I could count on 1 hand the number of fellow psychiatrist collegial activists. Though interest has definitely escalated over the last 5 years or so, and strategies have been developed to help patients with climate-related disorders, I would be hard pressed to conclude that we have done anywhere near enough to help slow down the changes, including the behavior that is driving the risks. There is still a climate emergency according to scientists, with the accompanying health and mental health harms, and we need to exclaim that loud and clear.
The same seems to hold true for the rest of society. Concern has been increasing in many pockets of the public and politicians, but seemingly too slowly. We even have some of the worst changes built into the future because of how long carbon emissions stay in the atmosphere, at least for now.
Thankfully, our government has belatedly come onboard with the Inflation Reduction Act. However, it can still be politically derailed and does not influence the carbon emissions of other high global producers like China, Russia, and India.
Nevertheless, while our emotional human nature is very slow to change, the same is not true for our technological intellectual abilities and progress. That is what may save us from the worst. Back in my earlier activism, I thought more nuclear fission energy would help, but with the safety risks a drawback.
As far as I know, the best of lists in terms of technology and the climate for 2022 have so far not included the very recent breakthrough experiment of nuclear fusion, as occurred on December 5th. Similar to the sun, a potential new source of clean energy emerged from a long experimental process of nuclear fusion by laser pulses. Unfortunately, earlier in the summer, Europe went through record heat and rain, and we in the north are bracing for a polar express and blizzards in the latter part of this week.
The drawback is that the breakthrough to practical reliable energy production could take years and years. Certainly, it has no influence on the Russian traumatic destruction of fossil fuel energy sources in Ukraine and trade in Europe. Bridge renewables and less reliance on fossil fuel are needed in the meanwhile.
Yet, it seems to me that we may finally glimpse a way out of this climate emergency. The path is fusing the psychology of our climate activism with the technology of such a new source of nuclear energy, or something like it, joining the best of our basic emotions with the best of our cognitive intellect.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.