Understanding Climate Change as an Existential Threat: Confronting Climate Denial as a Challenge to Climate Ethics

  • Tim Christion Myers University of Oregon, USA
Keywords: Climate ethics, Normativity, Climate denial, Existentialism, Phenomenology, Anxiety


Climate change cannot be managed by experts and politicians alone. Consequently, climate ethics must take up the challenge of inviting public responsibility on this issue. New sociological research on climate denial by Kari Norgaard, however, suggests that most citizens of industrialized countries are ill-prepared to cope with the ethical significance of climate change. I draw upon Martin Heidegger to offer a new reading of climate denial that suggests viable responses to this problem. I argue that the implications of climate change are largely received as an ‘existential threat’ to the extent that they endanger the integrity of everyday existence. In other words, the implications of climate change for everyday life unsettle what phenomenologists call the ‘lifeworld’. Should basic lifeworld assumptions, which cultures rely on to makes sense of the world and their purposes in it, come under serious question, anxieties surface that most people are profoundly motivated to avoid. Hence, the ethical obligations entailed by climate change are ‘denied’ in the form of protecting lifeworld integrity for the sake of containing anxieties that would otherwise overwhelm people. Finally, I submit that existential approaches to climate denial can empower a confrontation with ‘climate anxiety’ in ways that open up ethical reflection.


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How to Cite
Myers, T. C. (2014) “Understanding Climate Change as an Existential Threat: Confronting Climate Denial as a Challenge to Climate Ethics”, De Ethica, 1(1), pp. 53-70. doi: 10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.141153.