Written by: Emilia MacDonald
Edited by: Julia Neves
Upon a brief reflection, many Canadian citizens would say that it had been an absolutely gorgeous summer. Indeed, it seems that the extreme weather that was experienced all over the country has been quickly forgotten and dismissed. Unfortunately, it is apparent that Canadians have a startlingly short term memory when it comes to extreme weather events (that are caused by our own actions, by the way).
Just as a small reminder: The Yukon was declared in a state of emergency after fires were roaring on near the Mayo region on August 8th, 2023, and throughout the summer months, there were intense fires in Quebec and Northern Ontario that resulted in the estimated burning of 5.2 million hectares of land, as of August 22, 2023.
This summer, Ottawa citizens (including myself) were faced with deep orange skies and air quality warnings. This should have resulted in a population-wide outcry in response to these brutal weather events that hurt our local ecosystem. Yet, here I am once more– disappointed. In fact, through interactions with others living in Ottawa, there was a prominent opinion that “this heat really isn’t a bad thing” and “if this is climate change, let it happen!”
This sentiment poses the question: how do people–while the country is burning–continue to act like these weather events are not an imminent threat to our way of life? The answer: ignorance.
The relationship between ignorance and climate change is one that is rife with complications and intricacies. However, there are formal concepts that can be applied to what is being witnessed and offer assistance when attempting to understand denial and the climate crisis. The first is the idea of pluralist ignorance, which means that people have the tendency to take on the opinion of the loudest speaker, which when paired with social media, can greatly contribute to the number and intensity of climate change deniers.
Similarly, there is the concept of a self-serving bias, which is the human tendency to believe that what is beneficial to oneself is the most fair option. Applying this concept to human behavior, specifically in relation to climate change, can create the narrative that “this weather is nice, and since I am not currently on fire, there is no real threat”.
This seemingly ubiquitous narrative represents a difficult battle with which we must engage in order to shift perceptions of the crisis at hand. Extreme and hazardous weather conditions are occurring in front of our very eyes, and yet climate change activists are still met with resistance. It is important to recognize that climate change is an immediate issue that must not be pushed onto the next generation. As a national and a global community, we must continue to stand up to climate change ignorance by paying attention to the environment around us, as well as the effect that our actions have on our environment.
Newell Reinvention. (2023). Smoke from Canadian Wildfires over New York Cities. Wikimedia Commons. photograph. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smoke_from_Canadian_Wildfires_over_New_York_City_06-07-2023.jpg.
Kriss, P. H., Loewenstein, G., Wang, X., & Weber, R. A. (2011). Behind the veil of ignorance: Self-serving bias in climate change negotiations. Judgment and Decision Making, 6(7), 602–615. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1930297500002643
Kjeldahl, E. M., & Hendricks, V. F. (2018). The sense of social influence: Pluralistic ignorance in climate change. EMBO Reports, 19(11), e47185. https://doi.org/10.15252/embr.201847185
Shingler, B. (2023, August 22). Climate change worsened Quebec’s wildfire conditions this year, scientists say | CBC News. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/climate/quebec-climate-change-wildfires-research-1.6943502
Yukon declares state of emergency in Mayo due to wildfire threat | CBC News. (2023, August 8). CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/mayo-talbot-creek-wildfire-evacuees-1.6930643