Opinion

On climate change, we're just playing dead and hoping the predator goes away

How is it that people leading corporations and governments aren’t fighting, not just for their own ability to sustain life, but for the reassurance that their kids and grandkids have that same opportunity, asks family physician and trauma therapist Dr. Christine Gibson.

At COP26, we need our elected officials to get into fight or flight mode. All of our lives depend on it

When it comes to the climate crisis, we are acting like a prey animal feigning death, writes Dr. Christine Gibson. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

This column is an opinion from Dr. Christine Gibson, a family physician and trauma therapist in Calgary. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

I recently bought a hybrid Subaru, arranging transportation from a dealership in Quebec. This was the only province Subaru Canada decided to sell the limited vehicles, as they had the best rebate program. 

It was near impossible to find plug-ins across the northern lake country and prairies, but I stopped at campsites designed for RV trailers and juiced up the car. I got it back to Alberta, where I can plug it into the EV charger for my solar panels. 

But having driven 5,000 kilometres on mostly gasoline, it felt a bit like virtue signaling by the time I got home.

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

As I drove, I listened to an audiobook called The Ministry for the Future by an American author, Kim Stanley Robinson. The premise is that a heat wave, in which millions of people die in India, creates a catalyst for climate solutions. 

He proposes that existing drawdown ideas might play a role, like carbon coin cryptocurrency and agricultural reforms. There are some dark themes, of PTSD and eco-grief, of drones that attack in swarms, and missiles taking out air and rail infrastructure. It will likely make for good television fodder.

A collective dissociation

We have already faced or become climate refugees, dealt with weather-related natural disasters, and considered the clear facts of unrelenting climate change. While we all desire a future where the earth remains habitable for as many of us as possible, it's hard to imagine what the catalyst might be that could stimulate real change for us.

Because the world is undergoing a collective dissociation.

I should know. I'm a trauma expert.

While our short-term crisis is the COVID-19 pandemic, of far greater concern is the tragedy of how this has been handled, a mirror for our concerning failures in sufficiently addressing climate change. 

Or, the far greater concern, not addressing at all.

The 2021 wildfire season in B.C. was the third worst on record in terms of area burned. If we fail to act as if our very lives were at risk, we have essentially agreed to wait for the predator to approach, writes Dr. Christine Gibson. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter)

Dissociation in the individual body looks like a numb, disconnected response to their external reality. In the animal kingdom, it might be called a feigned death. Imagine a prey animal laying down and hoping the predator goes away. 

It doesn't seem like a very effective way to deal with a problem. It's generally the body's last resort, once the fight or flight response has burned out. 

I can't help but wonder — where is our fight or flight? How is it that people leading corporations and governments aren't fighting, not just for their own ability to sustain life, but for the reassurance that their kids and grandkids have that same opportunity?

I remember reading that agricultural output was down as much as 80 per cent for some crops in Alberta due to heat, smoke, and drought. This was in the context of supporting farmers. But, with fire-ridden California and B.C. as our breadbaskets, and our own land no longer growing sufficiently, the far bigger concern is our overall food security.

A feigned death response

Under the Paris Agreement, Canada agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. There's now an ambitious plan to meet or exceed these targets; using carbon pricing, regulation, and incentives. This could contribute to the hope of less than 2 C warming, but it might fall short, especially since indicators so far have shown an ongoing increase in emissions.

If we don't acknowledge that climate change exists (as some federal politicians failed to do this year), that's true dissociation. If we fail to act on it as if our very lives were at risk, then we cement a feigned death response. If we act as if we didn't hear the IPCC reports of ongoing heating and its disastrous global effects, then we have essentially agreed to wait for the predator to approach.

There is no bigger issue of our times. Collectively, we need to find safe ways and safe spaces to speak openly about the problem and the solutions. Individually, we have to recognize that the luxuries we have taken for granted may not be available in the future. And that the people who are already suffering the worst effects of climate chaos were not the ones causing it.

As we look to the ongoing COP26 in Glasgow, we need our elected officials to get into fight or flight mode. All of our lives depend on it.


Do you have a strong opinion that could add insight, illuminate an issue in the news, or change how people think about an issue? We want to hear from you. Here's how to pitch to us.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Christine Gibson is a family physician and trauma therapist in Calgary. She has worked in health equity and advocacy throughout her career. She runs a global non-profit and a cooperative.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now