The Confusing Relationship Between Consciousness, Culture, and Climate Change

by Sarah Whitney

The Memory Network (2014) conducts a discussion where Greg Garrard talks about the difficulties of cultural and individual comprehension of climate change.

As a society, we are perplexed by the idea of climate change, and how to approach and find solutions to its many effects. As individuals, humans are puzzled by the temporality, significant scale, and contributions they can make to mitigate climate change. Identifying and understanding these blockages may help formulate meaningful solutions and sustainable practices that can be easily enacted by the public.

Culturally, society is perplexed in the way we should currently perceive and act upon climate change. As a whole, society has formed the idea that humans have become a geological factor because of the massive effect we have on our climate. Our consciousness has organized climate change through scientification, where we blur all the facts together to form a specific outlook of global warming. Garrard uses “prolific mourning” to describe the current outlook on global climate change. This phrase describes the idea of looking to the future and then looking to the past, or otherwise thinking about the future predicament of the globe with climate change and what humans might have done differently if we had the chance. He then describes a factor of the ideology of “prolific mourning” called the predicament of “the ambiguous role of the child”. When looking at the future, society views children as the reason to take current action to combat the effects of global warming as well as the hopeful solution to solve our problems. However society knows that a major driver of climate change is the fossil fuel consumption caused by the demand of goods by our increasing population. Therefore subconsciously, society has a dilemma between being hopeful in our children and considering not having them at all.

Garrard states that individually, humans have great difficulty in comprehending the scale and temporality of climate change. He uses an example of the final message of an “Inconvientient Truth” in which Al Gore wants brighten the spirits of the audience by saying that even turning off the lights contributes to mitigating the effects of global climate change. Garrard contributes lack of implementation of sustainable practices to the confusing relationship between the scale of the problem and the scale of the solution. He says that the vast issue of climate change is demoralizing to humans, as they believe they are helpless. Their actions, like turning off a few lights, seem completely insignificant when compared to issues like rising sea levels. Furthermore, the confusion of time scales confuses many individuals. Climate change is phrased as an urgent matter we need to attend to, yet some of its effects may not be seen for centuries. It is difficult for some individuals to plan ahead a few days let alone a decade or a century. Thus the problem of time becomes an issue when planning and implementing ways to combat global climate change as it is almost unfathomable to an individual. Finally, Greg Garrard discusses the “unbearable lightness of green”. This example draws upon the psychological theory of diffusion of responsibility. As human population grows, so do the effects of global warming. The more people there are on earth, the less impact an individual has on fighting climate change. This exponential growth of the population diffuses the “heavy burden” of climate change and dilutes its urgency. Thus individuals feel insubstantial in any efforts to combat global warming and consequently this pressing issue seems “unbearably light”.


Garrard, G. 2014. Climate Change and the Art of Memory: Greg Garrard.

The Memory Network.





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