Magazine article Foreign Policy

Terror Management: Could a Shared Fear of Climate Change Unite Enemies?

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Terror Management: Could a Shared Fear of Climate Change Unite Enemies?

Article excerpt

REFLECTING ON U.S.-SOVIET relations late in his presidency, Ronald Reagan once mused about one thing that could unite humanity: a threat from a "power from outer space." At the time, the sci-fi reference seemed a little out of place in a discussion about international relations, but the Gipper had a point: Bitter rivals don't tend to unite unless they face a common threat from a third party. Think of the U.S.-Soviet alliance against Nazi Germany, the period of bipartisan consensus that followed the 9/11 attacks on the United States--or, more to Reagan's point, the now cliched scene of mortal enemies putting aside their differences in alien-invasion movies. (Remember the Arab and Israeli pilots who join forces near the end of Independence Day?)

Some psychologists, however, now suggest we may not have to wait for flying saucers in our search for a global threat that can bring humanity together --we may already have created one ourselves in the form of hotter temperatures, rising sea levels, and increasingly unpredictable weather. According to a recent article in Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, just hearing about the dangers posed by global warming can turn you into a pacifist.

The study was led by University of Colorado professor Tom Pyszczynski, one of the leading proponents of an emerging school of social psychology known as "terror management theory," which holds that a wide array of human behavior and thought is motivated by fear of death. …

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