For a great part, happiness is a state of mind. And for most of us, we have basic needs of food, water, shelter, security etc met. We are able to grow and can contribute to our loved ones or to our community, in small or larger ways. As long as we are grateful for our blessings and not be overly distracted by excessive wants, we can be consistently (mostly) happy, as well as have motivation to fulfill our purpose, to grow and give back.
That said, it is probably easier to be happy if we are not starving, if we are not caught in the middle of a civil war, or have not just lost our family and/or homes to disasters e.g. storms, floods. The question is: how many of these issues are man-made, and how many can be solved or managed collectively by us?
Interdependence (Between People)
Our population numbers are becoming larger, and our world is becoming more crowded. The level of technology is increasing constantly. It is inevitable that external factors affecting happiness will become increasingly anthropogenic (caused by humans).
Despite this trend, interdependence continues to be generally misunderstood. The Climate Debate will be used to illustrate various points about Interdependence and Happiness.
Popular Misconception of Interdependence
For Climate Change, an issue in which numerous world leaders including the Pope has given weight to, there have been important, thorough, credible international collaborations and synthesis climate reports. The IPCC AR5 report assessed and compiled more than 30,000 stand-alone scientific studies and simulations for a broad understanding on the topic. The conclusion reached is that there is a >95% probability warmer global climate is anthropogenic.
Nearly all major scientific organizations concur with the synthesis reports, leaving a few who are non-committal (mainly geologists). Even more strikingly, the American Institute of Petroleum Geologists, the last major scientific organisation to dissent, changed their dissent to a non-committal position in 2007. Yet despite the near scientific consensus for many years, only 50% of the general population feels likewise.
Popular Media and Misconception
The divergence between the scientific and popular opinion is commonly attributed to the media coverage. Apparently, coverage is fifty – fifty (M.T. Boykoff & J.M. Boykoff, 2004), sometimes even leaning more towards climate denial. Reasons attributed are the focus on media sales (controversial stories sell), mis-reporting and lack of understanding, a wrong understanding of balanced reporting etc.
(Fifty – fifty reporting may seem balanced, but it is akin to giving a flat earth advocate as much air time as scientists, without thorough and scientific comparison, to disastrous results. Rather, balanced reporting is to detail evidence, and to explain each evidence’s weight in the issue; not to manage the reporting of evidence so that they look equal to the uninitiated.)
Misconception of Distance
Of course, like other areas when Interdependence is downplayed, the distance to the issue probably plays an important role too. Generally, apathy is the norm for issues that are perceived to be of lesser direct personal consequence, or that seem out of our personal span of control. There-in lies the fallacy. Compared to any other time in history, our individual actions mean a great deal more, due to the effect of aggregation, our large population numbers, internationalization and through our consumption decisions which direct businesses that wield massive impact.
“(Interdependence) It costs each individual nothing to dump their gases and it costs nothing for nations very little to dump their gases into the atmosphere. But the harm done by that is borne by people all over the world… That is the tragedy.”
Spreading the message and voting with our wallets etc aka our aggregated actions do matter. For Climate Change, there are many cases where after a massive consumer outcry, businesses do a full U-turn of environmental policies for the better in days, compared to decades of inaction despite environmentalist pressure. Similarly, for areas where interdependence is critical, our actions can make the difference.
The Future of Happiness: Climate Standpoint
Interdependence is very misunderstood element of happiness. Sometimes, it takes too much blame for directly preventable unhappiness. At many other times, it is forgotten and we do nothing to help ourselves and our community to prevent a global disaster, when we have the means to.
In the case of Climate Change, if not slowed, the extreme weather and environmental degradation indirectly caused by us (consumers) will trigger more health conditions, cause more deaths. destroy more homes etc, and eventually make the world a less livable and less happy place.
Hence, our combined apathy or our interest and actions may mean the difference of whether our shared planet will be damaged, whether whole cities and homes will be submerged/destroyed, lives lost and health impacted, to the great detriment of the happiness of people all over the world. Or whether healing can occur instead, for the beautiful planet we share, and which contributes in our well-being!
As always, thank you for reading and/or sharing your views.
Media Credits: Cocoparisienne, Bessi, Tookapic, Schmid-Reportagen