Psychology student implicates free will belief in climate change denial

Book Cover FINALDoes free will belief pose a major threat to humanity’s future by amplifying climate change denial? George Ortega, a student at Empire State College, and director of an organization called A Happier World, has constructed a counter-intuitive, but scientifically robust, argument that it does. He has just published a potentially game-changing scholarly work that explains how much of the public denial of climate change that has stymied global efforts to effectively address the crisis is directly attributable to our belief in free will.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, only 44 percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening, and that it is primarily caused by human activity. In his new book, Free Will: Its Refutation, Societal Cost and Role in Climate Change Denial, Ortega makes a convincing case linking free will belief to climate change denial.

Free will is the belief that we humans are free to act as we please, and can override influences that lie beyond our control, like causality, our heredity and our environment. The free will belief also denotes that we are fundamentally, and not just pragmatically, morally responsible for our actions.

Ortega’s book begins with a devastating physics-based refutation of the free will construct wherein he essentially invokes our a priori understanding that the universe exists and is in constant motion with the undeniable correlate that the causality manifested by momentum means that the law of cause and effect must also be held as a priori knowledge. This argument, applied to human decisions, renders the prospect of a free will scientifically impossible.

After presenting a litany of negative outcomes associated with believing in free will, like increased aggression, anxiety and depression, Ortega describes the belief’s impact on climate change denial. He cites research on why we deny climate change by social scientists like Tim Kasser of Knox College in Tennessee and Kari Norgaard of the University of Oregon, and explains that the guilt that gives rise to much of this denial invariably and directly results from our belief in free will.

The way this works is intriguing, and somewhat complex. Denial is a defense mechanism that people employ unconsciously to overcome unpleasant feelings of guilt about a wrong-doing. In order to feel guilty about a wrong, a person must feel morally responsible for having done the wrong, but it is difficult to rationally feel fundamentally responsible for a wrong not done of one’s own free will.

Usually, a person must first believe they have a free will before they can experience a sense of fundamental responsibility, feel guilty about a wrong, and unconsciously resort to denial as a way of coping with the unpleasantness of the guilt. Therein lies our problem. “Because facing the harsh indictment that we are causing climate change impacts that threaten the lives of billions of people makes us feel guilty, and is so threatening to our self-image,” Ortega says, “far too many of us resort to denial, and refuse to accept that climate change is happening.”

Founded by Ortega in 2011, A Happier World is an organization dedicated to popularizing the refutation of free will, most generally to facilitate a scientific consensus about the true nature of human will, and to help create a global society that, as a result, suffers far less from blame, guilt, arrogance and envy. One of the organization’s major challenges has been to effectively communicate the relevance of the free will question to people’s lives.

Many academics, for example, understand that free will is an illusion. However, most do not sufficiently appreciate the value of that knowledge to our world because they fail to consider the implications of believing verses disbelieving in free will at the personal, societal and global level.

The importance of Ortega’s having discovered the free will belief – climate change denial relationship to A Happier World’s mission can be illustrated by way of a Jewish mythical story. Long ago, God asked all of the peoples of the world, including the ancient Israelites, to accept his Torah, or teachings and law. They all refused. He then suspended a mountain over the Israelite people, and asked them again. Not surprisingly, this time they said yes.

It appears that the link between free will belief and climate change denial has become A Happier World’s “mountain.” Ortega’s theory is a potentially pivotal breakthrough in our understanding of one of the major causes of climate change denial that will prove difficult for our world to dismiss or ignore.

Indeed, it may be that only when we face the fact that free will is nothing more than an illusion will we be able to squarely face the far more urgent and threatening fact that we humans are causing climate change, and begin to meaningfully mitigate and adapt to the crisis.

David Freedman
for A Happier World

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