Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 5

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The Central Issue of Our Civilization

These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of the information disheartens me, but it also clarifies the possibility of better outcome.

Chapter 31. Precedents and presidents. How climate policy lost the plot. The issue of climate change emerged at the time of unusual optimism, when there were three very recent precedents of proven success and international cooperation: reduction of nuclear arms, reduction of ozone-depleting chemicals, and reduction of acid rain pollution. All were resolved with improved technology. In retrospect, these issues had such strong metaphorical similarities to climate change that policymakers failed to notice the glaring and important differences — the differences between solvable tame problems and multifactorial wicked problems. Unfortunately, these precedents were of an entirely more manageable scale than climate change. As with all frames, these precedents focused the attention, and defined the areas of disattention — thus, climate change could be defined entirely and exclusively is a problem of gases.

Precedents can be unintended disinformation. Only very slowly is our culture coming to recognize the complexity of climate disruption, especially the issues that relate to cultural maturity — my stance that global warming is not a technological issue; rather it arises from the underpinning of our civilization.

Chapter 32. Wellhead and tailpipe. Why we keep fueling the fire we want to put old. From the very beginning, fossil fuel production was outside the frame of climate change. The focus on tailpipe gases ignored wellhead production, including exploration and development. Because climate change is multivalent and wicked, it can have multiple interpretations, but exists only in the frame that people choose to have.

Climate disruption is much more than a greenhouse gas issue. How blind we are to our own follies!

Chapter 33. The black gooey stuff. Why oil companies await our permission to go out of business. The social construction of risk generates CRAP (a.k.a. compulsive risk assessment psychosis). This allows the fossil fuel industry to focus on the future development of technology, especially Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), as a solution to global warming — the optimism of technology and consumerism.

Again, our blindness.

Chapter 34. Moral imperatives. How we diffuse responsibility for climate change. The use of passive voice allows confusion of responsibility. Obfuscation allows governments to create the impression that something is being done, while simultaneously preventing anything from happening.

And unfortunately, some of the blindness occurs by deliberately putting on dark glasses.

Chapter 35. What did you do in the great climate work, daddy? Why we don’t really care what our children think. Professionals assume that their privileged position in the world will immunize their children from the worst impacts of climate change. The choice to have children compels those who have children to write a narrative around climate change in which the overall prognosis becomes more optimistic, their own emissions become less significant, they become less vulnerable, and they accept a world of extreme inequality of future outcomes on their behalf.

Wow. Our biases come to the surface in many diverse ways, especially moved by moralistic slogans.

Chapter 36. The power of one. How climate change became your fault. Climate change is unique in that our individual contributions can be measured down to the last gram; no other global issue has this characteristic. In reality, the promotion of personal responsibility was a narrative gambit to define climate change as a problem that lay at the very furthest end of the tailpipe in the purchasing decisions of the individual. Creating personal responsibility leads to blame and resentment. It is conservatives who have the greatest moral emphasis on personal responsibility; and it is liberal individualists, with their highly individualized values, who are actually the group least suited to working together for a shared goal. Small changes in lifestyle lend license to tomorrow, justifying excess in other areas. What is needed is the power of all, not the power of one.

Guilt is not an effective motivator. There are so many different factors in the way in which narrative is received, and these factors vary from group to group. My experience over the years is that what motivates people is a sense that they can do something in a way that is successful; unfortunately, the super-wicked nature of global warming is such that it will always be two steps forward, and three backwards, and only occasionally will it be four steps forward, perhaps to long-term success. This is not a recipe for engagement.

Chapter 37. Degrees of separation. How climate experts cope with what they know. They cope as human beings, with all the anxieties and inconsistencies of each of us.

As Pogo said: “We have found the enemy. And he is us!” The only way I myself have managed is to bracket my issues. Human like the rest of us.

To be continued.

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