2. Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis

Societal and Structural Denial

Reflection 6

Before you begin, enter your reflection journal and consider the following:

  • Are ecological collapse and/or the climate crisis common topics of conversation in your community(ies)? For example, with friends, family or in class?
  • If not, why do you think that is?
  • If yes, in what places and spaces do the conversations feel more difficult or strained? Why do you think that is?

Note: to access your reflection journal please review the Introduction section of the Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis module.

In the introductory video, the narrator discusses how a limited understanding of the climate crisis, alongside a disconnection from the natural world, may cause individuals and communities to remain stuck in cycles of denial. Let’s explore further why and how this may be happening.


“Dominant sources of information and knowledge don’t adequately address the severity of the crisis. In Canada, there is no government consensus on how or what to teach about climate collapse in schools. Climate change denial still plays an active role in influencing public opinion. Those profiting from the climate crisis, like the fossil fuel industry, are investing heavily in this denial. Meanwhile, many people are spending more time on their screens than outside. This has led to what some have started calling ‘nature deficit disorder’. If people are disconnected from the natural world and have limited awareness or understanding of climate collapse, it’s easy to remain stuck in cycles of denial. While the realities we are facing on a global scale are daunting, it is essential that we grapple with hard truths.”


Financing Denial and Government Lobbyists

Fossil fuel companies are some of the wealthiest on Earth today, and hold huge amounts of power to influence governments. Globally, 85% of taxpayer spending goes to fossil fuel subsidies; the US government spends 10 times more to subsidize the fossil fuel industry than it does on education. In Canada, the government has spent 23 billion dollars just on pipelines since 2018. These staggering numbers can be attributed to lobbying by fossil fuel companies.

Lobbying refers to the legal act of persuading the government to pass actions, policies, laws and bills in favour of a certain industry or group. In Canada, the vast majority of lobbyists are from fossil fuel companies. They are in daily direct contact with government officials, influencing them to support fossil fuels. This has been the case for decades, but has been heightened since the 2010s.  As public awareness grows about how damaging fossil fuels are to the environment, companies need to lobby to stay in business.

Between lobbying governments against making changes that would bring positive effects to the environment, and actively causing environmental damage, the fossil fuel industry is one of the major culprits pushing climate change into a climate crisis. And while the fossil fuel industry is a major player in Canada, so too are the mining, lumber and agricultural industries. Around the world, industries based on the extraction of “natural resources” use the tactics of denial and lobbying to influence politics and public opinion.

School Curriculum and the Media

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to information about climate collapse. While information on the topic is widely available, many schools still don’t really teach about the environment and the crisis we are facing today. There are a number of reasons for this, including intergenerational and political gaps, as well as an active denial coming from the idea that we are separate from the natural world (we will explore this further below).

In Canada, there is no government consensus on how or what to teach about climate collapse; teachers are left to decide on their own whether to address the climate crisis, and how to do so. As a result, only about one-third of teachers say they feel equipped to teach about climate collapse. Despite all the knowledge about it that is widely available, those who do teach about it are reported to address the topic for an average of 1-40 hours total over one whole school year.

The mainstream news media has also been neglectful of making connections between the climate crisis and weather events, often covering them as “natural” instead of caused by human activity.

Talking about climate change in a mainstream context has been characterized by:

  • Complete silence
  • The use of terms that are not strong enough for the public to understand
  • The idea of “balanced reporting”:  the need to hear from people with a differing perspective
  • A focus on personalized narratives, where news outlets make stories all about heroes or personal triumphs, rather than about overarching effects of weather events and how they are connected to climate change and to the wider society
  • Alarmism: a feeling of doom and end-of-days that could make people feel they can’t do anything at all to effect change

Disconnection from Nature

Researchers have found more and more of a disconnect with nature since the 1950’s, mostly attributed to technological advancements, and a major drop since the arrival of the Internet in the late 1990’s. Today, children’s contact with the natural environment is at an all-time low, with kids spending more time on their screens than outside.

Some have started calling the negative effects of this disconnect nature deficit disorder, arguing there are health and behavioural problems caused by a lack of time spent in nature.

Ethnobotanist Wade Davis has used the term ecological amnesia to describe the way we eventually forget what the world is supposed to look like, i.e. that we are supposed to be able to swim in natural bodies of water, that there should be a chorus of birds and insects and animals making noise outside our windows.

However, just because we aren’t spending time in nature, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still a part of it: we are living on a huge bio-intelligent being that we are deeply connected to. We are a part of the biosphere no matter what, and as we cause its collapse, we feel the consequences.

We are also connected to each other and our actions have an impact on other people, which is made abundantly clear in the time of climate crisis and a global pandemic.

Denial of Entanglement and Interdependence

Societal and structural denial of ecological collapse is connected to the active denial of the fact that we are all entangled, connected and interdependent. Check out the video below that raises some questions about independence vs. interdependence.

Our socialization into this belief through racial capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy–among other systems–often causes us to feel like we are separate, independent, isolated. But this belief and feeling is not representative of reality. We are literally all connected and entangled with one another and all life. We are part of the world’s ecology in diverse and contextual ways, while we all exist together in the earth’s biosphere.

Feelings and beliefs of separation, isolation and independence feed into the notion that our decisions and actions are without consequence to others (both human and non-human life). They seek to uphold the illusion that we are not responsible for the harm and violence inflicted on all life on this planet in order to sustain our current and dominant ways of living globally. The denial of the fact that humans are causing the collapse of ecological systems and mass extinctions as we speak.

The denial of interdependence and entanglement also connects to how dominant Western society approaches feelings of deep fear and grief. When individuals, communities and society more broadly begins to face the difficult and harmful truths about racial capitalism and climate collapse there is often an inability, a lack of capacity or stamina, to face the pain that these truths elicit.

In the book Towards Scarring Our Collective Soul Wound, Cash Ahenakew, member of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples’ Wellbeing at the University of British Columbia, discusses how modern societies relate to pain. He explores how an avoidance or disconnection from pain itself contributes to the problems and crises we are facing.

“In modern societies we have developed a very negative relationship with pain—we are terrified of being overwhelmed by it, and we are particularly scared of collective pain because we do not know what to do with it apart from wishing for anesthetic relief. Therefore, in order to re-centre the land and become sensitized to its pain, we need to first change the ways we have been socialized to think about health and well-being in relation to pain itself. Many Indigenous groups have practices that can change our relationship with pain and trauma release. In this text, I focus on sacred pain as one way to transform both individual and collective traumas. Sacred pain can support the work of scarring our collective soul wound, a wound caused by the illusion of separability that has been instituted through the violence of colonialism. This violence involves the fracturing of our sense of entanglement with the cosmos, the earth, other species, and with each other.”

Listen and/or watch the short video below of Dr. Cash Ahenakew describing his work.

The root causes of today’s crises go beyond the climate statistics and policy reforms at the surface of contemporary responses. What would an approach to climate crisis and ecological collapse look like if it was centered in a deep sense of entanglement and interdependence? If it faced the affective, the feelings of grief and horror that ecological and social collapse elicit, as well as the literal pain of the earth itself. Would the perpetuation of these systems of violence, harm and destruction be possible if there was not only an understanding of these hard truths, but also the capacity and stamina to feel them?

 Check Your Understanding

Recommended Further Viewing and Reading


For a transcript of the lyrics for the above song visit Genius’s page for Retribution.

Please note that a transcript for the lyrics of the song Tlahuiliz/Light is not currently available. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Reflection 7

After completing the section on societal and structural denial consider:

  • What may you be resisting or denying as you work through this module? For example, have you scoffed or laughed at anything? Have you had any strong negative reactions to any of the ideas or perspectives shared?
  • What do you think, if anything, would support you individually and/or collectively to be able to sit with the complexity and difficulty that ecological collapse and climate crisis elicit? What role would the affect (i.e. our feelings, like pain and fear) play?

Note: to access your reflection journal please review the Introduction section of the Ecological Collapse and Climate Crisis module.


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Global Justice and Change Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Toomey and Emma Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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