Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (Anglais) Relié – 9 octobre 2014
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Over the course of the book, he explores the psychological and social traits that served us well over millions of years of our evolution on the savannas of Africa, but which are not serving us so well now. These include confirmation bias, present (time) focus, social conformity, group think, procrastination, valuing the messenger over the message, and the different functioning of the rational and emotional brains. He explores these issues with several psychologists and sociologists, who generally believe that climate change is "a threat that our evolved brains are uniquely unsuited to do a damned thing about", as put by Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert.
In order to gain the widest possible perspective on these issues, the author immersed himself into cultures that many environmentalists would consider the belly of the beast of denialism, such as Tea Party meetings and evangelical church congregations. That he is able to uncover important lessons on climate change communication from such unlikely sources is a testament to his open mindedness and humility. He believes we need to listen to everyone, and engage them on their level.
He also points out how many of the approaches taken by environmental activists have proven to be counterproductive, if the goal is to move beyond preaching to the choir. Perhaps the most important of these is the tendency of environmentalists to adhere to the "information deficit" model of communication, which is the belief that if just the right information is provided to people, that they will see the light and act upon that knowledge. Much of the content of the book consists of showing just how completely untrue this is.
He discusses how the early framing of climate change as primarily an environmental issue has caused it to become politicized, which suits the fossil fuel lobby just fine. Those whose social groups reject environmentalism as mainly the purview of egg-headed liberal elites (e.g. Al Gore), have come to distrust the message of human caused climate change because they distrust the messengers.
The author does provide recommendations for effective climate change communication, but without giving away the whole story, this quote on the need to engage both the rational and emotional aspects of our psyches sums them up well: "So, advocates for action on climate change have to do everything they can to speak to both. They need to maintain enough data and evidence to satisfy the rational mind that they are a credible source. They then need to translate that data into a form that will engage and motivate the emotional brain using the tools of immediacy, proximity, social meaning, stories and metaphors that draw on personal experience."
The book is well structured, with many easy to read short chapters that make for easy pacing. He also provides two summary chapters that distill the many points he makes, which I found very useful. My one recommendation is that grouping the 42 short chapters into larger sections would be useful in terms of grasping the information on a higher organizational level.
I believe this book is a must read for everyone involved in communicating about climate change. I propose that we place copies of this book in time capsules around the world, so that in the event our civilization does not heed its messages, at least future survivors will know why.
His points are surprising and force us to reframe our entire understanding of the issue. Here are a few examples, many of which don't make sense until you get the benefit of Marshall's full explanation:
* Climate change is not a tame problem, but a "wicked" one.
* Climate change is not an environmental problem.
* Fossil fuel companies must be stopped, but they are not the enemy.
* Polar bears and our grandchildren are not the ones who need to be saved.
* Conservatives are not the enemies of climate change action, but essential allies.
* Guilt over our personal contributions to climate change and fear of what will happen are our biggest opponents.
* Climate change is not in any sense a religion, but evangelical churches may be our best models for learning how to communicate about it.
I had some anxiety as I read this book, not so much because it's about climate change, but because for the first 40 chapters or so, Marshall tells us only how NOT to communicate about climate change: why politically loaded messages hurt the cause, how making the problem scarier encourages us to ignore it even more, and how the science isn't going to convince much of anyone, for instance. I was afraid that I was going to get to the end of the book and find out that his conclusion was "So basically, we're f***ed."
Thankfully, it wasn't. At the end of the book, Marshall revisits all his key points and turns them on their heads, showing how the things we're doing wrong in communicating climate change can maybe be done differently and effectively. It's not that those of us who are working to solve the climate change problem aren't trying hard enough to communicate: it's that there's an entirely different and unexpected way for us to go about it that is likely, based on a great deal of research and investigation, to do a much, much better job.
We tend to understand climate change in limited ways, each of us confined to some extent by our peers and expectations. Marshall's book helps us break out of those limited understandings to see the big picture, and in the process to find new resolve, new allies, and new hope for immediate change.
George Marshall has managed to write a very readable and thought provoking book, explaining why people who accept that AGW is occurring and likely to have serious consequences, refuse to take action. And why AGW deniers, largely, hold their position of denial.
I was flabbergasted by the argument used by a denier in a television debate who used the analogy that climate scientists are in the position similar to musicians who happen to be lacking the viola part for Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante K364, and 3/4 of the violin part.
Actually, climate scientists are in the position that they know virtually all the notes and the order in which they occur - to use the musical analogy - but they don't know the tempo, the loudness, the exact acoustics of the space in which the work is being performed and the position of the listener. And as a result can't predict, like a music critic before a performance, exactly what will happen.
The climate has changed in the past. It will change in the future. What is happening today is nothing special or extraordinary. Past climate change has been due to increases in greenhouse gases, such as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 MYA, which is the best indication of what is in store for what may happen, since it was due to a similar sized release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing 7 degrees of global warming, albeit in 25,000 years instead of the current 250 years.
Or past climate changes have been due to other factors, magnified by subsequent changes in greenhouse gases, as in the deglaciations of the current Ice Age, resulting in the peak CO2 level occurring 800 years after the start of warming. Nothing surprising, and well known and discussed by climatologists. But apparently a considerable surprise to AGW deniers who feel that it somehow falsifies AGW.
The book goes partly towards explaining why my leader the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the only leader to have abolished a carbon price, while at the same time proposing to spend several billion dollars of taxpayers' money in Direct Action to pay business companies to reduce their emissions of CO2 (it hasn't been legislated yet, and may never pass the Senate, because it's generally regarded as a bad idea), while at the same insisting that abolition of the carbon price saves an average of $550 per year in electricity charges per household (my bill actually dropped $9 a year, although I actually use 1/5 the average consumption of households) and Australian coal will be a source of cheap energy for decades to come.
What I think is necessary is a new term for AGW. Climate change was adopted by the IPCC at the insistence of America and Saudi Arabia, as being less threatening.
I proffer HIGESH. Human Induced Global Earth Systems Heating. Human induced, because it is. Global, because it's not just local or regional. America is not the world, you know. Earth Systems, because it isn't just the lower atmosphere. Climate also includes the oceans, the cryosphere (ice and snow) and the ground. Heating, because it's not a gentle warming.