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Opinion: Helplessness; closing our eyes to climate change

Unlike other animals on our planet, very young human beings are almost completely helpless. When something frightening happens in proximity to a two-year-old child, the youngster covers its eyes with the palms of its hands. This is the psychological dynamic that accompanies helplessness.

As we mature, we overcome the feeling of helplessness about a lot of things, and most of us develop alternative defenses. The two that have occupied psychologists for decades are flight or fight. However, there is a third “defense” that is often overlooked: freeze. When an unexpected and frightening event happens, many people initially freeze. This condition may last for less than a second or for a few seconds. It’s a time when the brain analyzes and makes a decision about what has happened and what to do. Depending on circumstances, freeze can then turn to flight or fight or, perhaps, some other tactic.

Climate change and helplessness

Year after year, we human beings have added pollutants to the world’s air, water, and soil. In our continuing search for inexpensive energy, we have leaned heavily on coal and petroleum. Through burning and combustion, both contaminate the atmosphere. We have also rid ourselves of sewage and industrial waste, spewing millions of tons of garbage of various sorts into coastal estuaries.

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