The Particular Psychology of Destroying a Planet – The New Yorker

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Two weeks ago, I looked at the question of the anxiety that the climate crisis is causing our psyches. But, if you think about it, there’s an equally interesting question regarding the human mind: How is it that some people, or corporations, can knowingly perpetuate the damage? Or, as people routinely ask me, “Don’t they have grandchildren?”

A reminder that plenty of people have been engaged in this kind of planetary sabotage came last week in a remarkable paper by Harvard’s Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes. After analyzing nearly two hundred sources, including some internal company documents and “advertorials,” they concluded that Exxon officials had embraced a strategy “that downplays the reality and seriousness of climate change, normalizes fossil fuel lock-in, and individualizes responsibility.” And the authors found a model: “These patterns mimic the tobacco industry’s documented strategy of shifting responsibility away from corporations—which knowingly sold a deadly product while denying its harms—and onto consumers. This historical parallel foreshadows the fossil fuel industry’s use of demand-as-blame arguments to oppose litigation, regulation, and activism.” As Supran explains in a long Twitter thread about the research, “ExxonMobil tapped into America’s uniquely individualist culture and brought it to bear on climate change.”

What kind of thinking goes into adopting a tobacco-industry strategy to protect a business model
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