Who is an eco-terrorist?

Who do you think an eco-terrorist is? The answer might surprise you.

The psychologist Dan Gilbert mentions how our response to a particular threat is often disproportional to its magnitude. For instance, we have spent more money and effort on combating terrorism, which accounts for less than 0.05% of global deaths, and doesn’t represent an existential threat to humanity. Whereas climate change is a far graver crisis that can actually drive the species to extinction, but has been largely neglected in comparison. Why is that so? Why does the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy still declare terrorism as humanity’s biggest threat?

Gilbert points out how the human brain isn’t particularly good at math or statistical analysis. We do not crunch numbers on the risks we face before reacting to them. Instead, our brains are good at responding to threats of a certain kind – such as the idea of an evil person hiding in the dark with a weapon, who is out there to get us. Terrorism is vivid, specific, immediate and triggers our brain’s emotional response. Climate change is the opposite. It is slow, will happen far in the future and is not caused by individuals, but by collective action. Just say the words terrorism and climate change aloud. Which term causes a bigger reaction within you?

To fix this problem, Gilbert mentions how we have exactly one feasible recourse – to frame climate change as the type of threat that we instinctively respond to. In other words, we ought to deliberately make climate change sound more like terrorism. The folks behind the “extinction rebellion” movement may actually be onto something.

This brings us back to the term eco-terrorist. Who is an eco-terrorist? Ideally, it is a person or a politician who denies climate change and worsens the crisis through dishonest rhetoric and bad policy. The world in the not-so-distant future, would view Americans as eco-terrorists, given their disproportionate CO2 emissions and their lack of will towards fixing the climate crisis.

But alas! The term eco-terrorist, thus far, has been used precisely by the people who are on the wrong side of this problem. Climate deniers often dub environmental activists as eco-terrorist. The perpetrators of one of humanity’s gravest existential threats have called their opponents “terrorists”.While they may choose to feign ignorance on environmental matters, they know a thing or two about human psychology.

So here’s what you and I can do. Given that we know about climate change and terrorism, we need to change the rhetoric. We need to call out the real eco-terrorists in this crisis.

Inspiration: Dan Gilbert’s conversation with Chris Anderson

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