Carl Sagan once said, “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”
In the psychology of human behavior, denialism refers to an individual’s refusal to embrace reality as a means of
avoiding a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Sure, it’s irrational but we humans can be masters of irrationality on
issues large and small, any day of the week, if it means preserving our emotional comfort.
In the mid-1960s, a coal industry research organization (Bituminous Coal Research, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA) published
its own findings that if the then-prevailing trends of coal consumption continued, “...the temperature of the Earth’s
atmosphere will increase and vast changes in the climates of the Earth will result.” The report went on to propose that,
“Such changes in temperature will cause melting of the polar icecaps, which in turn would result in the inundation of many
What was, 60 years ago, only a murmur regarding the potentiality of climate change has become a roar, as scientists
around the world have solidifed theory into fact. In response, instead of acceptance, we’ve seen a mobilization of
denials and defenses from many quarters - economic, political, financial, religious - designed to cast doubt on what
science, even industry-backed science, is telling us.
Earth’s climate is changing in ways that pose a significant threat to life on our planet, and human activity is catalyzing
this change. This isn’t a comforting statement. It is, in Carl Sagan’s words, an overwhelmingly hard truth.
Many will continue to deny the scientific evidence and maintain that climate change is a lie. A hoax. A boondoggle.
This insistence on clinging tightly to what has repeatedly been disproven is unfortunate but understandable. It’s easier
to cling to old constructs than navigate changes that acknowledging the science calls upon us to make.
At the same time, growing numbers of people across the globe are coming together to develop, implement and
embrace the sometimes not comfortable changes that will put our planet’s environmental health at the forefront of
our collective decision making and future way of life.
What will we choose at this fork in the road, with denial of the science leading to eventual devastation, and
acceptance to a new era of planetary sustainability? We’re approaching a tipping point that demands a decision. The
cost of continuing to choose the comforting fantasy over the hard truth would be an awfully steep price to bear.
Image: Untitled • Keith Haring, 1985