The New Normal: The Normalization of Climate Change
BY MAYENLI COMFORT-MARYAM '23
Climate change has become a new “norm:” though it dominates news, discussions, and politics, there is little progress towards changing its path. The past decade has seen some of the most alarming weather events, from disastrous hurricanes to destructive wildfires. As abnormal weather becomes more common, people become increasingly desensitized to the magnitude of the change, viewing it as a normal occurrence. The unwillingness of the public, especially in developed countries, to take responsibility for climate change furthers its normalization.
Unless you’re experienced in climatology or environmental science, our perception of “normal” weather patterns is fundamentally flawed. Even then, we perceive past climates as merely the past, not something we’ve experienced. Our assumption of what weather is supposed to look like is flawed because we are only on Earth for a relatively short period of time. If you grow up in an era where disastrous weather events occur frequently, then that becomes “normal” to you, even though it’s really abnormal.
Frequent news of abnormal weather further reinforces our small-scale mentality, causing us to be unfazed by them. For instance, addressing ocean pollution was a highly popular topic in 2017. Everybody was trying to “save the turtles'' by using metal straws and wearing Pura Vida bracelets. Are the turtles saved? No, but we don't care anymore because sea life suffering is no longer abnormal. Highlighting issues is a good start, but the public’s initial enthusiasm quickly fades, it fails to invoke real, lasting change. We’ve become so familiarized with the stomach-dropping images of climate change that it does not evoke as much emotion or will to create environmental change as it once did.
Much of the apathy surrounding climate change comes from developed countries, even though its inhabitants are the biggest contributors to climate change. According to a United Nations report, the richest 1 percent of the world emits twice the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the poorest 50 percent. From 1850 to 2011, more than 79 percent of all emissions were produced by developed nations, but developing countries bear the brunt of climate change’s effects, which exacerbate their existing problems. This is evident in places like rural India, where uneven rainfall patterns diminish crop yields, and sub-Saharan Africa, where harsher temperatures turn farmland into desert.
Despite their contribution to climate change, many citizens of developed nations are unconcerned about its risks as they face fewer of the consequences since their economies and societies are fossil fuel based. This manifests itself in minute, performative actions; when guilt pricks at our consciences, we shake it off through mini tasks like picking up litter, celebrating Earth Day, and posting scenic pictures on Instagram rather than addressing the problem at its root. However, short-lived performative actions don’t create any real change if we don’t commit to doing them on a regular basis.
To alleviate the current climate crisis, we must face hard truths: yes, we are directly responsible for the damage others are experiencing, but there are steps we can take to improve the climate situation. We can invest in energy efficient appliances and bulbs, source meat from local butchers or eat less red meat, and reduce food waste by composting. And yes, your mom was right, taking shorter showers and unplugging appliances when not in use makes a difference too. We can't just care about climate change when there's another hurricane or when another species goes extinct. We, as a global collective, have to make a continuous dedicated effort to curb these horrible events—Instagram slideshows and infographics do not count.