The psychology of climate change
Organisers of a youth rally told me earlier this year that climate change was the activist issue for their generation and that young people would turn out to protest in record numbers.
When hundreds of young people showed up on the anointed day I thought – where are the rest? If this is the issue, where is the mass demonstration of dissent?
You know that public movements must be struggling when incumbent politicians are forced to urge them on. UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, and his brother, Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, have both called for more public mobilisation on climate change, although the UK government has also used anti-terror powers against some climate activists as I described in this blog last week.
Former US vice-president, Nobel Laureate and prominent global warming activist, Al Gore, has called for young people to engage in civil disobedience over the issue.
Now in his new book, Our Choice – A Plan To Solve The Climate Crisis, Mr Gore devotes a chapter to analysing why climate change has failed to prompt a greater public outcry.
In it he asks “Why is it that humanity is failing to confront this unprecedented mortal threat? What is it about the way we human beings process information and make choices that promotes global procrastination?”
I suspect the chapter is part therapy for Mr Gore who must be hurting after years of relentless presentations around the world which, despite warning of the possible demise of human civilisation, have failed to ignite the collective action he’d hoped for.
I’ve heard exasperated climate scientists similarly ponder what they regard as bewildering inaction.
CSIRO’s former climate director, Dr Graeme Pearman, suffered a personal crisis after confronting this question before deciding to study psychology, which he describes as the new frontier in climate change:
“Behavioural issues are likely to be much more important than the development of improved descriptions of exactly what happens or might happen to the climate. These are the main barriers to the actions that are needed.”
Mr Gore says he conducted 30 “solutions summits” with leading international experts to discuss how to design the multi-faceted battle plan in his book. They included brain scientists who told him the climate threat seemed too remote and unprecedented to trigger survival reflexes. In short, primordial human wiring is tuned to the likes of carnivorous predators, lightning strikes and blood-curdling rival clansmen.
Harvard University’s Daniel Gilbert has provided a sharply amusing account of how global warming challenges our evolutionary psychology – if it doesn’t make us duck or twitch or even feel repulsed, can it really be so bad?
Behavioural scientists also told him that “Simply laying out the facts won’t work … The barrage of negative, even terrifying, information can trigger denial or paralysis or, at the very least, procrastination.” Sounds like a bad rap for his Academy Award winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, which helped raise global awareness of the issue.
But scientists told Mr Gore that the human brain can commit to multigenerational goals although this can be undermined by constant stress and excessive distraction, both of which abound in modern society.
“The primary users of the new brain research are the marketers and advertisers of goods and services … the average American now sees an average of 3,000 advertising messages per day … material consumption in our society has reached absurd levels.” We have lots and lots more stuff even though there’s been no measured increase in well-being and happiness. Maybe it also means we’re less able to focus on long-term sustainability because we’re too busy shopping. It’s exceedingly difficult for reason to challenge the powerful forces of habit,” he writes.
But Mr Gore remains optimistic that gorging on short-term gratification “can be … overridden by an innate and powerful desire to do right by those to whom we feel some connection.” Like our kids and grandkids.
To deliver a more effective message, proponents must “… strengthen the linkage between solutions to global warming and solutions to other challenges (economic, strategic and social) that seem more immediate and are more likely to induce a desire to make the necessary changes.”
A recent report released by the American Psychological Association suggests a series of practical approaches. For instance, most people want to fit in and some researchers found that people will cut their electricity use immediately if told their neighbours use less than they do. Other researchers found that people respond in the same way to future environmental decisions as they do to financial ones. Thus, schemes providing up-front cash for home insulation are more effective than promising long-term savings.
“Messages are more effective if framed to warn people that they will lose $500 over 10 years if they don’t follow a particular course of action to limit climate change, than if they are told they’ll be $500 better off if they do take action,” the report says.
But is our psychology the only reason why climate change is slipping down our ‘To Do’ list? Does lack of political and economic leadership, inaccessible science (how many people have really read the 2007 IPCC report?), aggressive vested industrial interests and extremist greenies all combine to dilute the collective will Mr Gore is trying to summon on this epic issue? Another one of his chapters analyses the political obstacles.
David Spratt, an Australian climate activist and co-author of Climate Code Red, blames apathy on “a systemic political under-estimation of the seriousness of the problem … Because governments are not honest with themselves about the size and urgency of the problem, they necessarily transmit a shallow view of the problem to the electorate, who follow suit in seeing climate as an incremental problem. Voters are sold a show-bag of dinky policy actions on climate as ‘solving the problem’, and they reasonably conclude the problem can’t be all that serious. Much of the climate advocacy lobby is guilty of the same incapacity.”
But a recent public campaign by the UK Government prompted complaints that its TV ad on climate change was too scary. Have a look and see what you think.
Last time I checked the global temperature was dropping over this decade by one degree after rising a degree during the 90’s. Things are never as simple as changing one parameter (eg CO2). For example CO2 holds solar energy while smoke reflects solar energy. These models act as if only one parameter is changing on earth and that is CO2 when in fact there is much more to pollution than just CO2.
One thing I know is that our environment changes. It never stays the same. It has not throughout history. Money would be better spent learning how to adapt to changes. I beleive that over the next couple years as the actual data shows temperatures dropping we will be back to worrying about the new ice age like they were back in the 1970’s when temperatures dropped.
People just aren’t going to quit driving or eating meat. Even Al Gore still eats meat even though he knows methane pollution is slightly worse in percent warming than CO2. If you are still worried about global warming then peak oil may save you by crashing the economy.
Sorry, but in my humble opinion global warming is just as much bullshit as this contrived swine flu crisis.
It’s a vehicle to power for the rich. Gore has become a baron by aligning himself with the Goldman/Rothschild/Rockefeller desire to use global warming (30 years ago they tried global cooling, but of course once the solar cycle kicked back up they had a problem) as the mechanism to get the lower classes to agree to their own servitude. It props up a controlling class over the masses. It’s the first mechanism they’ve found that they think will actually work…the proletariat fighting the bourgeois “man” didn’t work. Gore lives extravagantly and pumps out more CO2 and CFCs than 99% of people, but he doesn’t really care about that. He’s after power and control.
Having said that, there’s no question our human systems creating exponential growth are wreaking havoc on habitat, wilderness, etc. We need to voluntarily reorganize ourselves locally and escape the growth empire, rather than letting the people who created and controlled the empire continue controlling things with their cap-and-trade, taxation, inspection, regulation schemes.
So it sucks to have to fight the self-righteous politicians who’ve hijacked the issue because I’m immediately McCarthy-ized. I’m actually quite an “environmentalist” but I refuse to join Gore’s religious crusade.
Nice post Strabes. I am really pro environment also. This global warming BS is all about controlling the masses, not really the environment.
Here is the latest Global temperature averages thru 2008 from NASA.
Global Mean Temperature has not been dropping over the past decade … In fact, the opposite is occuring.
I’ve been on both sides of the “debate” over AGW or climate change, and have belatedly joined the ranks of the AGW believers. I’ve seen the effects of it with the aspen and pinyon pine die-offs in my own backyard. It is real. The rich don’t have to fabricate this catastrophe. Since when have the elite not profited off of death and misfortune?
The problem is that in human time scales, AGW is slow-moving and non-apparent. We don’t fear what is not in our face. For most, it’s an ill-defined threat relagated to the science community. If Joe six-pack goes to the theater to watch 2012, then he can believe what he sees on the screen because things are moving around in real time(human time scale). There’s no latency.
Appreciate the deep insult xray that only you are enlightened enough to be aware of long-term trends and the rest of us just watch movies. Nobody I’m aware of denies that climate changes. Causation is where the debate lies.
It seems you’re the one with the limited timeframe that only goes back 30 years or so…a pine tree dwarfs the lifespan of a human but geological time dwarfs the lifespan of a pine tree. Do you forget that your pines grew from land that used to be under an ocean of ice? Do you blame humans for the fact that the pines weren’t in your backyard then? The presence or absence of a pine tree doesn’t prove human climate change. All the pines died in my grandparent’s backyard as well over the course of 30 years, which has caused me some grief. Now if I were to assume that my childhood nirvana was the norm by which to measure the world, I might tend to agree with you “hey! something destroyed my nirvana. must be all you people!” And actually I could agree with a human cause if it’s based on evidence of a pollutant that poisoned the trees or something like that (that’s actually what local authorites say…midwest manufacturing before it was shipped to Mexico/China put a pollutant in the air that killed the particular pines in my grandpa’s yard). But I don’t believe (it’s a belief) that too many cars and factories changed the earth’s temperature from what the sun would’ve caused otherwise and therefore the trees were killed. The sun will do what it’s going to do regardless of whether humans exist or not.
xraymike79 said: I’ve seen the effects of it with the aspen and pinyon pine die-offs in my own backyard
Question: How do you know the die off was due to AGW? Seems to be only anecdotal evidence.
jturbek1 said: Here is the latest Global temperature averages thru 2008 from NASA.
Interesting, I tried to find how those charts were generated. If you read about it you discover that there is an awful lot of “estimating” going on, particularly anything prior to 1950. When I look at the base data, it sure looks like that sea temperature has been going down over the last few years. Also, that blue area that represents the 95% confidentiality is pretty wide.
Here is another interesting site that does an analysis of the different temperature metrics. It looks like the GISS data from NASA could have some bias being added to the warm side.
But, I don’t think any of this matters. We may be warming, we may be cooling, the right question to ask: “Is it caused by man?” and the more important question at the moment is to ask “Is it caused by man-made CO2?” These questions are important because of the potential policy/legal/lifestyle changes we might make based on this data. My take is that since 95% of all GHC (green house gases) are natural, that the far less than 5% we could actually change would have little/no impact. Please see my posts on another forum topic started by DamTheMatrix.
[quote]With all the other environmental problems going on, why do you balk at AGW?[/quote]
1) Because it’s the one used by the control freaks to push their agenda toward global governance because they seem to be aware that there’s something about this one issue that has religious overtones, or somehow taps apocalyptic triggers in people.
2) Because I’ve seen too many journals and heard too many scientists describe how the solar cycle drives the climate change we see, and then they describe the Gestapo atmosphere in the scientific community right now about this particular issue. “Go along with us or you are banished!”
3) Because I see too much media manipulation and tugging heart strings. A polar bear standing on an iceberg makes little Johnny cry to mommy when he gets home from school–pure indoctrination–but contributes nothing to the kid actually learning the facts.
4) Because 30 years ago it was global cooling.
5) Because Al Gore is the guy you hated in high school that ran for student treasurer but nobody voted for because he couldn’t throw a baseball right.
You label a perspective that disagrees with yours simple “pushback.” That’s convenient. Apparently you labeled it pushback before you even read it and considered what I said because, if you had, you’d know my point was that even if all aspen and pinyons in the whole world disappeared it still proves nothing about whether man is more powerful than the sun.
Those dying pinyon trees aren’t just in my backyard; it’s all over the Southwest. Considering that a single coal plant creates 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, among other pollutants, and generates about 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year, and at last count there are over 50,000 coal-fired plants worldwide, it would seem possible that those numbers alone would cause someone to consider the possiblity that AGW could be real. (Coal power plants alone emit roughly 30 times more CO2 than all volcanoes worldwide).Over 600 million ICE cars in the world couldn’t effect climate any. Nahhh, couldn’t have any effect at all.
With all the other environmental problems going on, why do you balk at AGW?
This will be the last reply from me on this subject because I can see the push back from others is fruitless.