Humans Have Normalized Climate Crisis Behaviors

We need “normalization of existence” instead. Urgently.

Hand holding a plant for climate crisis norms post
Image by Pexels via Pixabay.com

Citizens of Earth are currently attempting to claw our way out of the greatest example of “normalization of deviance” in history – the climate crisis. While a majority of us comprehends that something has to be done right away to avert a climate catastrophe, too many deviants – leaders and followers – are still clinging to the way it’s always been.

For centuries, people have been told, have believed and have acted upon the human race’s “dominion over” Earth and everything on it, all the plants, animals and landscapes. No problem, then, that the norms became burning fossil fuels, contaminating water sources and infringing on habitats.

What a joke.

But as we’re finally learning, albeit too slowly, there’s absolutely no humor to it.

Disastrous Norms & The Climate Crisis

I first heard the phrase “normalization of deviance” from “The Challenger Launch Decision” by Diane Vaughan, PhD. Vaughan, a sociologist, took a deep look at why the space shuttle Challenger disaster occurred, and coined the term. She defined it as “The gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organization.”

I remember where I was and what I was doing when Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board. 

So does Tracy Stille, public safety project coordinator of the League of Minnesota Cities. As he put it on his blog about safety and risk management, “Vaughan examines why NASA allowed the launch to occur when they had overwhelming information that this was exactly what was going to happen. It is called the normalization of deviance, and it is deadly.”

We shouldn’t have to think about it at all;
climate-friendly behavior
must become second nature.

Even so, NASA apparently was what some call “a hard learner.” As Stille points out, just seven years after Challenger, “The shuttle Columbia came apart due to damage in its heat shield as it was re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, and seven more astronauts died. NASA had fallen prey to the normalization of deviance for a second time. Shuttles returning with damaged heat shields had become the norm.”

Turns out the people in political, economic and religious power, what we might call “the organization,” are a little slow on the uptake, too, which in effect means the entire human race is.

We’ve known for more than five decades now that these activities wreak havoc on the planet and the atmosphere, creating a climate crisis that is literally killing people. Yet we’ve continued down the same path, destroying our own habitat along the way.

Surely that can be categorized as deviant behavior.

And now we are in the results phase. To survive, we need to change course immediately. 

Normalization of Existence

More and more people are understanding a timeless truth –

Humans cannot survive without Earth, but Earth will be just fine without humans. 

We are like a disease on the face of the planet; once it is cleared off – once we are cleared off – the planet will counteract centuries of deviance and bring itself back into harmony.

Peter Sutoris, PhD, touched on all of this in his excellent op-ed in The Guardian“The climate crisis requires a new culture and politics, not just new tech.” 

Sutoris, an anthropologist of development and the environment, says we need to be humble in the face of the climate crisis, follow the lead of indigenous peoples and move away from the historical mindsets of consumption and “extractivism.”

“Changing the collective mindset of a civilisation calls for a shift in values. It means educating our children about humility and connectedness, rather than vanity and individuality. It means changing our relationship with consumption, breaking the spell of advertising, manufactured needs and status. It means political organising, generating demand for a politics that sees beyond the nation state, and beyond the lifespan of the currently living generations.”

In other words, we need to normalize a mindset of continuing existence, instead. 

That means changing how we think and act in all circumstances and situations so that saving the planet and ourselves is always part of our calculations. In fact, we shouldn’t have to think about it at all; climate-friendly behavior must become second nature. 

To overcome humanity’s normalization of deviance, which has created the climate crisis, it’s time to be the change we want to see in the world. Literally and urgently.

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