Een Nederlandse versie van het onderstaande interview is hier beschikbaar.
You probably wouldn’t notice if you saw him walking to class, or if you came across him at the gym in the evening. He shares a simple dormitory with eleven other students and he doesn’t ‘even’ study climatology or biology. Nevertheless the 23-year-old Dominykas Ragelis from the Eastern European country of Lithuania is supercharging the fight against climate change with brand new approach and perspective. All thanks to his mom’s old school books.
Lost in conversation with Dominykas, you’ll sometimes catch him carefully observering you. Clasped hands in front of his mouth, every now and then a slight nod or a contemplating stare into the distance. Sometimes he’ll even let out: ”that reminds me of a theory”. Dominykas has a different perspective on the world than most people. He’s deeply in love with psychology, the study of human thinking and acting.
From a young age he took a keen interest in his mothers work, who is a mental health therapist. It wasn’t long before he left his hometown Marijampolė for the capital city of Vilnius and its university. Dominykas feels right at home there. He regularly contributes to the research of his professors, before even having graduaded. He even combined his major with a minor in economics, because after all: ”if you look at economic theories, it all comes down to human behavior”.
Dominykas is the perfect example of someone who uses his personal skills and interests to fight climate change. In many ways Lithuania is a microcosm for the global climate debate. Recently the topic has become more and more prominent, especially among younger people and in academic settings. Over the last thirty years Lithuania has made bigger strides than the Netherlands in terms of going green, but zero-carbon sources still make up less than 10% of all consumed energy. Compared to the rest of Europe, Holland and Lithuania both have a long way to go.
A lack of knowledge or awareness isn’t the problem: ”we know the facts, we know the figures.” The real hurdle is more subtle than that, Dominykas explains. Humans react most strongly to pain, or to be more precise, to P.A.I.N.:
- Personal: not many people feel like the climate crisis will truly affect them.
- Abrupt: climate change is more about trends than it is about sudden changes.
- Immoral: it’s not immediately clear to everyone in which ways climate change is unfair and unjust.
- Now: climate change is commonly seen as a future problem, rather than a current one.
Climate change is a very real threat, but because it’s not ‘P.A.I.N.-ful’, our brains are not able to perceive it as such. Dominykas compares it to how people in immediate peril will go to a hospital, but struggle massively with seeking help preemptively or changing unhealthy habits. Just take a look at the political landscape of the Baltics, where topics such as the climate crisis are continually overshadowed by regional tensions.
People are being constrained in their actions by these ”cognitive distortions”, as Dominykas puts it. Personally he hopes to eventually host workshops and presentations about this subject, as being aware of this phenomenon is the first step towards overcoming it. This kind of (self-)awareness may well be crucial for us to tackle climate change.
Another glaring shortcoming in climate communication is the ever-present sense of doom and gloom. Climate change is a sizable problem, with no easy solution in sight. Those are the perfect ingredients for becoming overwhelmed emotionally, the sensastion of hopelessness, all-round apathy and eventuallyeven stubborn denialism. ”Our cognitive capacity is limited. We can’t process information that’s too grandiose.”
In order to break that downward spiral, Dominykas hopes to foster ‘self-efficacy’ around him. ”It sounds complicated, but it’s a simple concept. It means believing that you can take up tasks and complete them. Sure, maybe you can’t dictate how an entire country behaves, but by dissecting this collosal problem into smaller pieces, you regain control over them in your day-to-day life.”
The beauty of self-efficacy is that it strengthens itself. ”Let’s say you succesfully repurpose or recycle something. That positive experience will motivate not only yourself, but also those around you. In that way, your psyche doesn’t have to hinder you from solving climate changing, but it can be the most powerful tool imaginable.”