The historian Rutger Bregman: Most people aren’t scared enough by climate change

    13 Dec 2021

    The Dutch historian and futurist Rutger Bregman stated for New York Times that most people still do not understand the dangers of climate change and underestimate the severity of the transformations that need to be carried out in the economy. He said this during a conversation with journalist Kara Swisher in the Sway project of The NYT.

    Rutger C. Bregman is a Dutch historian and author. He has published four books on history, philosophy, and economics, including “Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World,” translated into thirty-two languages. His work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Guardian, and the BBC. The Guardian has described him as the “Dutch wunderkind of new ideas” and by TED Talks as “one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers.” His TED Talk, “Poverty Isn’t a Lack of Character; It’s a Lack of Cash,” was chosen by TED curator Chris Anderson as one of the top ten of 2017.


    «I think that most people aren’t afraid enough just yet, and most people right now underestimate the enormous transformation that we’ve got to make to move to a completely different kind of economy. We’ve never done something like this in peacetime, right?», said Bregman.

    The scientist also added we often underestimate the resilience and adaptability of humanity. He cited as an example the civilization of Easter Island, which is often considered a prime example of a pessimistic outcome.

    «I think that we often underestimate our resilience and our adaptiveness. Easter Island has long been used as a parable of pessimism, right? This island in the middle of the Pacific, where these people build all these huge statues. Supposedly they had to cut down all the trees to transport the statues, to erect them. Then the whole forest was gone, and the soil eroded, and they couldn’t produce food anymore. Civil war ignited, et cetera, et cetera. So it’s a really pessimistic story of ecocide, how people basically destroyed their own environment.»

    But, the scientist added, the latest archaeological and anthropological evidence suggests that everything happened entirely differently. It is a story of resilience and adaptation.

    «We now know that the population that lived on this island was actually much smaller than previously estimated. And that even after the trees were gone, they adapted. And they invented new forms of agriculture that were actually more productive. So this (collapse – Ecolife) is obviously not a necessity. It’s not an iron law of history, but it happens quite a lot.»

    The scientist began his conversation with Swisher by saying that he considers all people “decent.” He noted that confirmation of this can be found in people’s actions during the pandemic, since most of us changed our way of life to stop the spread of the virus.

    «What I see is a world where billions of people radically adjusted their lifestyle to stop the virus from spreading further. So I see a huge, silent majority that’s maybe not in the news every day, you know? And then, even when I look at the people on the other side, people that refuse to wear masks, or refuse to be vaccinated… Yeah, and I think it would be very unwise to look at those people and assume that they are selfish or that they’re showing a lack of solidarity. Because if you’d actually talk to them, you’ll find out that they actually have pretty strong beliefs, that they do these kind of things often out of friendship and loyalty to their own group. People are actually risking their lives by not getting vaccinated or not wearing a mask, and still they want to do it.»

    He added that this is one of the paradoxes to be faced in studying human behavior and the nature of evil.

    “The simple fact that there are very few people who are standing on the wrong side of history and are happy about it and are saying, like, yeah, I’m just standing on the wrong side of history. That’s just the place I prefer to be. No, no, no, most people actually think they’re doing the good thing. They’re on the right side of history. So you’ve got to understand why they think that.”


    Let’s remind you that a metal structure will soon appear on the Australian island of Tasmania, which is called the “Black Box of the Earth.” Its purpose is to witness and record the end of the world as we know it. You may read the full story here.

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