Should we be afraid of not being afraid?
London, UK - The most amazing thing I have found in the more than 3 years I've been reporting on climate change for the BBC is how unafraid most people seem about it.
Yet global warming is widely reckoned to be the most serious threat mankind has ever faced. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that unless we make dramatic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures could rise by six degrees centigrade this century alone. That is enough to destroy many of the ecosystems that mankind depends on for food and water, the stuff of life itself.
The stakes really could not be higher. We are talking about something that could wipe man off the face of the earth, and take out most other species while it's about it. So, why are we not all convulsed with fear?
We all know what real fear feels like. Today, the Ethical Man team (me, the producer Sara, and cameraman Peter) will begin our month-long odyssey across America, flying to Muskegon, Michigan, the starting point of our journey. If we hit serious turbulence, everyone on the plane, apart from those with the constitution of a Chesley B Sullenberger III, will feel their pulse quicken, their stomach clench, their body tense.
That fear we feel is a vital instinct but also a truly ancient one. The human fear response has evolved and honed itself over hundreds of thousands of years to serve a very specific function, to prepare us for fight or flight.
Fear pumps our muscles full of oxygen, focuses our attention and primes our nervous system with adrenaline ready for violent action. It is designed to help us respond to immediate dangers, a bear attacking, a rock fall above us, a rival human wielding a club.
What it does not do is help us deal with a slow and insidious danger like climate change, because for human beings climate change simply is not frightening enough. It is happening too slowly, over decades. And it is also hard for individuals to link their role in causing the problem (driving, flying, heating their home) with the effects (changing weather patterns).
Maybe the sorry truth is that as a species we are just not psychologically capable of dealing with the threat.
President Obama's new energy secretary did his best to bring home to America why we should all be afraid in a recent interview. Nobel Laureate Stephen Chu warned that unless action is taken soon, California could be reduced to a dust bowl and its great cities destroyed.
He said he hoped America would wake up to the danger of climate change.
"We're looking at a scenario where there is no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going."
This is nothing less than a disaster epic set to consume Hollywood itself!
And it is not just California. The south of Australia is aflame, the north is flooded and China is experiencing its worst drought for 50 years. Meteorologists rightly warn that no single "extreme climate event" should be taken as evidence of global warming, but surely all these separate calamities occurring simultaneously is enough to send a shiver of fear down even the most sceptical spine?
So, how about a little exercise in global climate awareness? This blog is appearing simultaneously on the BBC's World, America and UK websites. Let's try to paint a worldwide picture of our changing climate.
Take a look around your local area. Is your climate changing and, if so, how?
Do you think it can be put down to global warming or do you look at the harsh winter parts of Europe have experienced and conclude all this talk of global apocalypse just a scientific fad?
Please get in touch. The more people who respond the more interesting the results will be. And, if you live in America, who knows, the Ethical Man team might just pop by to take a look at what is happening in your area.
And, one last thing, please sign up to our RSS feed. I will post a blog like this every couple of days. It would be really interesting to spark an international discussion of the issues.