Mirror, Mirror

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by William Defebaugh

photograph by Guillaume Amat

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In the early Nineties, a group of Italian scientists conducted an experiment in which they attached electrodes to a monkey’s brain, and then studied said monkey while it sat and watched another monkey peel and eat a banana. It was then that they witnessed something incredible: the monkey who did not have the banana had the same parts of its brain light up as if it was peeling and eating the banana too.

 

 

It was on that day we discovered what are now known as mirror neurons. When we watch someone do something, the mirror neurons send signals to our motor system and create a response or behavior change. If it weren’t for mirror neurons, we wouldn’t be able to feel catharsis or resolution while watching movies, we wouldn’t feel inspired by the actions of others, and we wouldn’t feel socially motivated. In short, they are responsible for what makes us human: our capacity for empathy and evolution.

 

When I tell people I work in the climate space, one of the first questions I often get is “Do you think there is any hope?” And my answer is, now more than ever, yes. I am hopeful because three years ago, the climate crisis felt like it had barely made its way into the collective consciousness. Flash forward to today, when it is the number two issue for Democratic voters (after healthcare), when the top polling candidate (who is projected to beat Trump) is a sponsor of one of the most important pieces of climate legislation in recent history, when public pressure causes billionaires and corporations to change their behavior, and when every Friday students around the world continue to skip school in protest for the planet.

 

In order for there to be a climate revolution, there needs to be a revolution in consciousness (one might argue they are actually the same thing, but that’s a newsletter for another day). If we are all mirrors for one another, then what’s really required to effectively create change in others is to embody that change in ourselves—to be the ones who stand up for what is right, who demand systemic change and don’t settle for less. Then we just have to watch it reflected back.

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