Tag Archives: anxiety

To What Do We Devote Ourselves

Acedia3As readers of this blog will know, I am a member of The Climate Mobilization. I strongly believe that we face an existential crisis as a species, and that we are at risk of extinction, especially if we delay action for too long a period. Gradually major organizations, cities, and countries are coming to this realization; gradually our culture is shifting. But, as with most big issues, confusion abounds and many fuzzy feel-good statements flourish. The bottom line is to what will we devote ourselves.

I personally work to alleviate suffering as this is where my skill set lies. And I work to open  discussion of what to do — that is the purpose of this blog.

The following links address some of these issues.

UK Parliament declares climate change emergency (20190501)

Slowly the world is waking to the need to respond. Hopefully the waking is associated with definitive action.

Don’t say ‘climate emergency’ in vain! (target setting in the climate emergency) (20190505)

An excellent summary of the confusion that can arise when we are not clear as to what we mean by ‘climate emergency.’ And it truly is an emergency!

The battle against climate change by Paul Kingsnorth (20190426)

Worth watching. Simply one intelligent man attempting to cope, he having been a major activist in his youth. The whole basis of my PhD dissertation was that climate disruption is not a technological issue; it is a psycho-spiritual issue. I am heartened to see it identified as such in this video.

Climate Crisis Forces Us to Ask: To What Do We Devote Ourselves? (20190506)

A journalist whom I respect asks “From this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet, to what do I devote my life? A moment by moment issue!

Climate Vision

GreenNewDealI think this animated video is important because we need a viable vision of the future. Like most US productions, it is orientated to the US — the message needs to be global.

We only have a few years in which to transform, so a video like this brings the message home — we can transform if we are willing to do so. We are story-makers — this video is a story!

The Green New Deal, both US and Canadian, is a stepping stone to the future. It will not be easy; hopefully it is possible. It certainly promises justice!

The Intercept: A Message From The Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (20190417)

I’m Right!

How we polarize!

The past three blog posts have been fueled by James Hoggan’s book I’m Right, And You’re An Idiot[1]. In conversation with Hoggan, David Suzuki (Canada’s leading environmentalist) asked: Why aren’t people demanding action on environmental issues? To address this question, Hoggan set out to interview a large number of some of the world’s leading thinkers, specifically individuals who study human communication, to gain their perspective on this failure.

As mentioned in Ways To Contribute, I am involved with the Suzuki Elders in exploring how to use this information in the management of difficult conversations. In Finding Common Ground and How Conflict Escalates, I proposed a simple (perhaps difficult?) methodology for this. Yet I also want to give credit to Hoggan for the immense amount of exploration he undertook.

The following are some of the major points with which Hoggan grappled. Most are from his Epilogue, and all are direct quotes, with the interviewee named (JH denotes Hoggan’s commentary). [Square brackets are minor changes I have added, hopefully without changing the meaning.]

  • Few of us are truly evil — and good people sometimes [strongly disagree] for good reasons. (JH, p. 215)
  • Democracy works only if reasoned debate in the public sphere is possible. (Jason Stanley, p. 98)
    • While contention lies at the heart of democracy, it must be constructive contention. (Marshall Ganz, p. 115)
    • [People] don’t need not agree on the solution or on the problem. They don’t need to understand each other, trust each other or even like each other. But they do have to recognize that the only way to move forward is together. (Adam Kahane, p. 123)
  • It is through narratives . . . that people learn to access the moral and emotional resources we need to act with agency in the face of danger, challenge, and threat. . . . [This] is one of the most important lessons set out in I’m Right. (Marshall Ganz and JH, p. 174)
    • At its most basic level, I’m Right is about how we tell stories and how we treat each other. (JH, p. 115)
    • To create powerful persuasive narratives, our starting point must be rooted in an attitude of empathy, respect, and compassion. (The Dalai Lama, p. 211).
  • People don’t start out mired in hostility. The situation evolves. . . . Our defense mechanisms kick in . . . and this provokes . . . eventual gridlock. (JH, pp. 214-215)
    • It is hard to know who and what to trust. (JH, p. 216)
    • An important key is to hold our beliefs lightly [so that we are open to new possibility]. (JH, p. 215)
  • Facts and reason are fundamental to healthy public discourse, but in our overheated adversarial public square, facts are not enough. (JH, p. 217)
    • The initial strategy . . . must be inquiry, . . . [exploring] what truly matters to people [the emotional energy]. (JH, p. 218)
    • We must appeal to people’s values and speak from a moral position, . . . encouraging debate about matters of concern. (JH, pp. 217-218)
  • A well-crafted . . . narrative helps tear down barriers of propaganda and polarization. This theme of emotional communication is grounded in the Golden Rule of treating others the way we want to be treated. (p. 219-220)
    • If we seek change, we should learn to use speech for its highest purpose — moral discourse. (JH, p. 222)

I propose that the methodology I suggested in earlier posts satisfies what Hoggan has identified, especially in providing narrative and compassion, and provides constructive contention.


[1] Hoggan, J. (2016).  I’m right, and you’re an idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and how to clean it up. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

The Issues Of The Day

Trauma2As noted previously, I am not posting a lot, but it seems time. So, some posts on what I think are the issues of the day: political insanity, the impact of consumerism and neo-liberalism, and the fears (generally hidden) concerning the coming trauma to our planet.

One definition of trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” I often think of trauma as physical injury, yet if I reflect on one of the most common expressions of the day — post-traumatic stress disorder — the trauma is more often not the direct result of injury; rather it is the psychic impact of impending injury. I suggest that these three issues are sign-posts of the impending injury.

They are the unnamed indicators of distress. I have yet to see significant advances that will shift the issues of the day.

The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll. (20171221)

The article is for me a good summary of the similarities and differences amongst various presidencies. To quote the article, “The expectation of integrity has given way to a cynical acceptance of deceit. As much as anything Mueller uncovers, this is the scandal of our time.”

Consumer society no longer serves our needs (20180111)

As usual, David Suzuki presents a reasoned argument, in this case, “How can we have serious discussions about the ecological costs and limits to growth or the need to degrow economies when consumption is seen as the very reason the economy and society exist?”

How Do I Reassure My Children About the Future When the Future Is Terrifying? (20180113)

An excellent summary of the fears of a parent, reflecting my own fears for my grand-children, and the many children of this planet. I am currently working part-time in a homeless shelter, and thereby see the cost of what we have already created on our planet — the coming costs will be immensely greater.

The Busyness Of Life

The Busyness Of Life

Anxiety3As is obvious, I have not been doing a lot of posts in recent weeks. Partly, I’m lacking inspiration, and partly, I’m unclear what else to add to what I have already written. I strongly believe that the many issues within global warming are simply the tip of the iceberg of our cultural immaturity and expanding world population, but until we recognize this, little will change. So I have been pondering what else to write, with little clarity.

For now, I have decided to do a weekly post (more or less), with brief comments on various links that come across my desk. This is the first of such posts, noting:

  • books I’m currently reading
  • social movement victories in the first 100 days
  • recent examples of global warming
  • the age of stupid

Books I’m Reading

A major component of who I am is that I seek an integrated worldview — I’m constantly assessing my experiences and my sources of information for consistency. I am not per se interested in accummulating knowledge; rather I want to experience and live more authentically. I strongly believe that:

A science that does not incorporate spirituality is dehumanizing;
a spirituality that does not incorporate science is delusional.

As part of this ongoing search, I am always reading multiple books at a time, largely because I get saturated with one book, and shift to another to clear my mind. Currently I am reading (I recommend them all):

  • BlindSpots: 21 Good Reasons To Think Before You Talk, by Christian deQuincey[1]
    • Christian was my research advisor for my PhD, and I have a deep respect for his clarity of thinking. BlindSpots is an excellent overview of the many ways in which we become confused about basic issues such as consciousness, energy, time, healing, et cetera. It is somewhat repetitive, but otherwise excellent.
  • Scotus For Dunces: An Introduction To The Subtle Doctor, by Mary Beth Ingram[2]
    • As part of my current exploration of meditation and contemplative practice, I’m studying the Christian traditions, especially the Franciscan traditions. John Duns Scotus was a brilliant theologian of the early 14th century, especially focused on a profoundly mature understanding of the relational character of God. In particular, he illustrates for me that human beings of other centuries were not stupid; they simply did not have our technological sophistication (nor, in many cases, our hubris).
  • Musicophilia: Tales Of Music And The Brain, by Oliver Sacks[3]
    • Oliver Sacks is a neurologist who writes about the many human issues that occur with neurological defects; other than his strong bias to equating mind and brain, I always find his writings to be very insightful. I’m especially interested in this book because, with my own neurological issues, I have little awareness of music — I have almost no response, cognitive or emotional (a point of sadness for me).

Current Comments on Global Warming

A recent article on CTV News Central and Eastern Canada face heavy flooding (20170505) describes the unprecedented rains and flooding occuring on the East Coast of Canada and the US. For me, it highlights the strange weather that is occurring — likely due to global warming (no one weather event can be proved to be due to global warming; it is on the trends of climate that are the main impact). Here, on the West Coast, our spring is very delayed — normally the streets are ablaze with flowering trees and shrubs, but currently theay are very muted or just beginning. For me, all this is simply the beginning of changes, many of which will be very difficult to accommodate.

It is so necessary that we respond to climate disruption in emergency fashion (see Blueprint For A Climate Emergency Movement), and I easily lose sight of progress. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the many articles about the Trump administration that simply incite anxiety — most of them are so illustrative of the need of the media to be theatrical, but some articles are important. The Top 10 Resistance Victories in Trump’s First 100 Days (20170427) identifies that progress is being made, especialy that groups are banding together to have a greater impact. For me, it remains a chaotic morasse without clear focus, more against Trump rather than defining a solid vision of the future, but it is much better than no response. The title ‘It can’t just be a march. It has to be a movement.’ What’s next for climate activists? (20170430) sums it up for me.

In contrast, I note the rise of populism (ant-intellectual political movements that offer unorthodox polices, frequently those that foster some kind of discrimination). Especially good is WATCH: Populism’s ‘backhanded service’ (20170505).

But it remains very difficult to get good information, the internet is so fraught with misinformation. As illustration, David Suzuki’s Research sheds light on dark corner of B.C.’s oil and gas industry (20170504) emphasizes how little I trust government these days. Currently we are in the midst of BC provincial elections, and I simply shake my head at posturing, and promises that likely will never be fully realized.

The Age Of Stupid

In Busy Is The New Stupid (20160720), Ed Baldwin notes I’ve found that the most productive and successful people I’ve ever met are busy, but you wouldn’t know it.  They find time that others don’t.” He notes the many difficulties that occur when we are too busy, and especially emphasizes “We’ve all been tricked into believing that if we are busy we are important.” From my perspective, much of this busyness also occurs because we are overloaded attempting to manage data (emails, reports, et cetera), rather than knowing how to organize information effectively.

Why we need to slow down our lives (20170430), Pico Iyer notes this massive influx of data, and proposes that we need a secular sabbath (given we so seldom keep a religious sabbath in our culture), “if only to regather the sense of proportion and direction [we will] need for when [we] go back online.” He also references an excellent TedTalk How Technology Evolves by Kevin Kelly. Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and an avid enthusiast of technology, yet notes “I continue to keep the cornucopia of technology at arm’s length, so that I can more easily remember who I am.”

In conclusion, I am reminded of a Zen story of the farmer who needs a horse. He is getting old, and now requires a horse so as to plow his fields. Bemoaning his life, he goes to the village master who says, “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.” So he goes home, somewhat dissatisfied. Yet the next morning, a stray horse shows up in his field. He goes to the master to express his thanks, and the master responds, “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.” Puzzled, he returns to his farm, plows his fields, and goes to bed. The next morning, his teenage son sees the horse, and attempts a ride, only to fall and break his leg. In misery, the old man goes again to the master, who again answers, “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.” Again dissatisfied, the old man goes home, to find the local army commandeering all the young men and boys for its battles. His son, with his broken leg, is spared. The old man is elated, and again goes to thank the master, who only replies “Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.”

The single most important skill here, from my perspective, is that of mindfulness, just being present to what is.

So in the trials of life,

“Be at peace. Come back tomorrow.”

[1] deQuincey, C. (2015). Blindspots: 21 good reasons to think before you talk. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press (Kindle Edition)

[2] Ingram, M. B. (2003). Scotus for dunces: An introduction to the subtle doctor. St Bonaventure, NY:Franciscan Institute Publications (Kindle Edition).

[3] Sacks, O. (2007). Musicology: Tales of music and the brain. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf Publications

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 7

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of trust.

This is my final post exploring a précis I did of George Marshall’s 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. The bottom line is how we deal with trust.

Chapter 42. In a nutshell. Some personal and highly biased ideas for digging our way out of this hole. Climate change is a scientific fact. Psychological obstacles are also a scientific fact. A large body of rigorous research based evidence suggests that we need to overcome numerous biases against threats that appear to be distant in time and place. We need to make these obstacles explicit, and recognize that many may be subconscious.

Marshall then offers approximately fifteen suggestions based on the extensive research he has personally done, interviewing many diverse groups as to what has been effective in mobilizing response to global warming, and what has not. [Unfortunately, I find this chapter to be the least useful of the entire book, partly because Marshall’s suggestions have not created a large frame for me — they are more a compilation of suggestions, all pointing at climate disruption. What follows is my attempt to give a frame.]

  • Trust is more important than information; emphasize qualities that create trust by telling personal story, and being emotionally honest.
    • Be honest about the danger, while encouraging positive vision. Activate cooperative values, and stress what we have in common. Relate solutions to climate change to sources of happiness.
    • Recognize people’s feelings of grief and anxiety; mourn what is lost, and value what remains.
  • Build a narrative of cooperation. Accept the spectrum of approaches that all parties bring. Create a heroic quest in which the enemy may be our internal weakness rather than an outside group.
    • Follow narrative rules to recognize the actors, motives, causes, and effects. Resist narratives of in-group and out-group; be wary of narrative takeover.
    • People are best motivated when action reinforces identity and social belonging. Emphasize action that makes us proud to be who we are. Enable communications with built-in interaction.
  • Resist simple frames, and be open to new meanings. Be sure that a wide range of solutions is constantly under review.
    • Never assume that what works for you will work for others. Close the partisan gap by affirming wider values.
    • Keep an open mind; be alert to your own biases. Remember experts can also be biased. Learn from your critics.
  • Never accept the frames of opponents: do not negate, repeat, or structure arguments to counter them. We all contribute to climate change; argument simply detracts from narrative.
    • Argument does not establish trust! The very word “opponent” suggests argument! Work to find a way to include the frames presented.
  • Emphasize the climate change is happening here and now. Be wary of creating distance in time and space.
    • Develop conversations about long-term preparedness, emphasizing a narrative of positive change.
    • Recognize moments of proximity that create symbolic moments, adding to emotional narrative.
  • Present climate change as a journey of conviction. Be prepared to learn from religious sources, which are frequently journeys of conviction; invoke non-negotiable sacred values.
    • Remember that how we respond now will provide the template for future responses.

The essential means of communication is personal story. Good communication is meant to be a sharing which leads to change in both originator and recipient. Modern communications, especially media, have been very effective in creating personal story, but usually have minimized the resources of logic and ethics. The modern means of communication whereby individuals leave comments, often anonymously, has generally become a means of diatribe, rather than dialogue. It is the means by which individuals discharge their emotional energy, but unfortunately is usually ineffective:

  • the individual does not fully release their energy, and
  • generally neither originator nor recipient learn from diatribe.

For effectiveness, personal story must be combined with good information, information that is logical and ethical, and which meets the recipient in a manner that the recipient trusts. Unfortunately, this kind of communication is uncommon. Thus it is essential that communicators work to include the frames of “opponents” — those who, often, are simply attempting to include their frames, and come from a position of argument.

From my perspective, the major need is to find promote cooperation by inclusivity. This requires both personal contact and time for relationship to develop. Given that evolving climate disruption has a time frame, I attempt to work in a manner that hopes/trusts that this effort will be enough! It has been my experience over my lifetime, especially in my career as a therapist, that change often comes in totally unexpected fashion, sometimes in what seems miraculous fashion.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 6

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of healthy living.

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.

One more post to go to complete this series — it has seemed long, but I believe the ideas to be important. The next post, on the final chapter of the book, will summarize my thoughts as well.

Chapter 38. Intimations of mortality. Why the future goes dark. We all know we are going to die, and we used to be able to cope with the thought that our life was contributing to something larger that would survive this. Now even that has been taken away from us. [Such losses overwhelm us.]

One of the destructive aspects of scientific materialism. Human beings respond to emotional narrative — the glory of the material-based cosmos thrills us with its complexity, but does not provide a sense of purpose. This is one of the reasons I ascribe to panpsychism (philosophically) and panentheism (spiritually) — they offer me greater depth of awe.

Chapter 39. From the head to the heart. The phony division between science and religion. Conviction is a condition of strongly held opinion, reached through a personal evaluation of the evidence. We know what needs to be done, and we know how it must be done. Yet, despite the information at our disposal, unfortunately very little is done. It is a long journey from the head to the heart; and an even longer journey from the heart to the hands.

Both science and spirituality seek to honor the cosmos, and are not opposed (although they have been interpreted as such) — the historic division occurred largely because of power politics of the 13th century, sustained since by the self-righteous struggles of both ends of the spectrum. We need a narrative that includes both, but most importantly we need to stop arguing details when we do not recognize the centrality of our ignorance. Then perhaps we could treat the world, this planet and its biosphere, with the respect it deserves.

Chapter 40. Climate conviction. What the green team can learn from the God squad. Climate change appears to be hopeless because people will never be prepared to make a sacrifice based on rational calculation, but this is not the case with religions, which contain sacred values that are so fundamental that they are entirely nonnegotiable. In religion, the reward for belief comes from belonging to a community of believers, and the cost of disbelief is social rejection. The language of climate change is strongly based in guilt and blame, and contains no language of forgiveness. Not surprisingly, people either reject the entire moralistic package, or generate self-forgiveness to ingenious licensing.

What will it take for we humans to know and honor a value system that treats the world appropriately?

Chapter 41. Why we are wired to ignore climate change . . . and why we are wired to take action. The issues of climate change are difficult to challenge; they are complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, and intergenerational. They require certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against uncertain longer-term loss. They challenged deeply held assumptions about comfort, about gases that we have considered benign, and that our familiar environment has become dangerous and uncertain. Cooperation amongst large numbers of rival social groups is required for a distribution of losses, and thereafter the allocation of the greatly diminished shared atmospheric commons. We all contribute moral responsibility together with the powerlessness of individual action. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent, lending itself to multiple interpretations of causality, timing, and impact. This leaves it extremely vulnerable to our innate disposition to select information so that confirms our pre-existing assumptions. These constructed narratives become so culturally specific that people who do not identify with their values can reject the issue they explain. The bottom line is that we do not accept climate change because we wish to avoid the anxiety it generates, and the deep changes it requires.

. . . and why we are wired to take action. Nonetheless, we are capable of dealing with all aspects of climate change. We have a virtually unlimited capacity to accept things that might otherwise prove to be cognitively challenging once they are supported by shared conviction, reinforced by social norms,  and conveyed in narratives that speak to our sacred values. We currently feel isolated and powerless, but could readily be mobilized if our concerns and hopes become validated within a community of shared conviction and purpose.

Unfortunately, it is not yet clear at what point we will fully engage in this process. Readers of this blog will know that I do not believe climate change to be a technological issue — it is an emotional issue reflective of our hubris as a species. We have much maturing to do as such.

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 5

distrust03
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.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 4

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of healthy living.

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 this information disheartens me, but it does offer clarity of the issues.

Chapter 22. Communicator trust. Why the messenger is more important than the message. If words are frames and metaphors are meaning, then the person who communicates them is the most important link. Trust is entirely driven by the emotional brain.

From my perspective, this is the essential dilemma — communication is an emotional process, and the messenger is more important than the message.

Chapter 23. If they don’t understand the theory, talk about it over and over and over again. Why climate science does not move people. Denial is due to a surplus of culture, the community one trusts, rather than a deficit of information. One of the best proofs that information does not change people’s attitudes is that science communicators continued to ignore the extensive research evidence that shows that information does not change people’s attitudes. It is personal story that engages people.

Indeed — personal story, but . . . . Over my lifetime, there has been a huge move to engage in emotionality, especially emotional opinion, This personal story engages, but has usually been accompanied by a diminution of logic and ethics. In order to be successful, personal story must be added to logic and ethics — an addition, not a replacement. In addition, because everyone speaks from their own frame with their own metaphors, there have been tremendous turf wars amongst the various contenders.

Chapter 24. Protect, ban, save, and stop. How climate change became environmentalist. The worldview of environmentalists creates a constantly reinforced schema by which climate change is detached from the many other issues (employment, economy, crime, defense) that people care most about. Environmental messaging is not deliberately exclusive; it would like to reach other people, but it is not interested in reflecting other people’s values — it thus excludes them!

War  does not create peace! The turf wars simply add confusion — somehow we need to come together in ways that recognize the commonality of our difficulties.

Chapter 25. Polarization. Why polar bears make it harder to accept climate change. Semiotics is the study of nonlinguistic signs. Climate change, an issue that suffers from a lack of proximity, has chosen an icon that could not be more distant from people’s real life.

The polar bear icon is ineffective! It becomes another component whereby climate disruption is an urgent, but not an important, issue, a distant issue.

Chapter 26. Turn off your lights or the puppy gets it. How doomsday becomes dullsville. There is no easy answer is to how best to communicate the serious threats contained in science in a way that people respect, understand, and heed. In addition, most people in Western culture have a large mental library of failed prophecies of collapse, and thus lose interest in another proposed collapse.

As well, guilt is not a great motivator. “How best” requires personal contact in a manner that the recipient will trust; this is very difficult to achieve in the immensity and complexity of modern culture.

Chapter 27. Bright-siding. The dangers of positive dreams. The downside of positivity, the idea of challenge and ingenious creativity, is driven by a terrible insecurity which requires a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities. Bright-siding may promote an aspirational high consumption lifestyle while ignoring the deep inequalities, pollution, and waste that makes that lifestyle possible.

Indeed there are incredible possibilities offered by climate disruption, but the complexity is immense, and essentially requires a major change in our cultural models.

Chapter 28. Winning the argument. How a scientific discourse turned into a debating slam. Political theory is never a good venue for having a rational argument.

Politics is emotional, and usually a morass of turf wars, attempting to preserve the system. Neither scientific discourse nor current politics is prepared for the changes required.

Chapter 29. Two billion bystanders. How Live Earth tried and failed to build a movement. In the absence of a clear objective and a movement that can galvanize an audience into action, concert media creates a global bystander effect, with the audience waiting for us to see if somebody else will do something.

We need a cultural narrative that will motivate.

Chapter 30. Postcard from Hopenhagen. How climate negotiations keep preparing for the drama yet to come. “Setting the stage” is a narrative frame that means that, even when the meetings do not do anything, they are still preparing for the great drama to come.

When?

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 3

distrust03These 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 this information disheartens me. Given we are reaching the capacity of our planet to hold our numbers, our limitations as a species are clearly showing.

Chapter 13. Them, there, and then. How we push climate change far away. The timeline of climate change is a creeping problem. The lack of a definite beginning, end, or deadline requires that we create our own timeline — we do so in ways that remove the compulsion to act.

Not an easy problem. Again, as indicated in Chapter 10, we are poorly evolved to deal with creeping problems. Partly it is our inability to cooperate in large groups; partly it is our ability to accommodate to slow change. The metaphor of how a living frog responds to being slowly heated in a pot of water (becoming cooked), although not accurate in the real world, is however so accurate as to how we respond to this issue.

Chapter 14. Costing the earth. Why we want to gain the whole world yet lose our lives. People give an overwhelming priority to the short term over the long-term. However, they will willingly shoulder a burden provided they share a common purpose, and are rewarded with a greater sense of social belonging. If climate change is regarded as an unavoidable condition, we will become resigned to it; if however, it is regarded as an active and informed choice, there are no innocent bystanders.

We need an effective narrative, one that allows us to come together as a common species, and we do not have that yet; we still live our lives with national identities (I’m a Canadian, et cetera), not easily identifying with the commonality of being human. Witness, for example, the issues of cultural identity: Muslim, Christian, Syrian, Mexican, latino — many of which now generate major angst in immigration issues.

Chapter 15. Certain about the uncertainty. How we use uncertainty as a justification for inaction. Uncertainty occurs through many mechanisms: the very meaning of uncertainty varies, and in the view of the public uncertainty means unsure or lacking confidence, whereas for the scientific community, uncertainty means not yet determined with sufficient accuracy]. Depending on the issue, crises are exploited as a means to centralize power and subvert democracy.

The disinformation processes of the past 50 years have been so destructive to our ability to come together; yet even a major sceptic Richard Mueller converted to agreeing that “climate change … [is] based on extremely strong argument” and “is “caused by humans.” And global warming is now a major part of military planning; it is so incongruent — we are such a strange species.

Chapter 16. Paddling in the pool of worry. How we choose what to ignore. Risk can be evaluated by the rational brain, but worry is an emotional perception. What we choose to ignore is just as important as what we choose to attend to, and it is this skill that enables us to cope with the information-saturated modern urban environment.

Indeed — information overload; and the attempt to respond to global warming is often seen as just another piece of information, something else to become numb about.

Chapter 17. Don’t even talk about it! The invisible force field of climate silence. The elephant in the living room is a meta-silence in that we don’t talk about the fact that we don’t talk about it. Ignorance is not knowing, denial is the refusal to know, and disavowal is the active choice not to notice; non-knowledge refers to information that is deliberately not acquired because it is considered too sensitive, dangerous, or taboo to produce. The discussion of information must be balanced by the need for discussion; a series of complex feedbacks mitigates against the discussion of the C-word. The shifting of public attitudes often requires a prolonged struggle by dedicated social movements, often with the central tactic of confronting a socially constructed silence.

Climate Silence! Challenging this is one of the major precepts of The Climate Mobilization — make a commitment to talk about it. This chapter is fascinating, and perhaps the most important chapter fo the book. How do you prepare for a threat that cannot be named? The multivalent nature of climate change makes it very susceptible to avoidance in the numerous ways that human beings have for managing anxiety. The author notes “The lessons of history show that this [global warming] is winnable, but it could be a long struggle.” Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a long struggle.

Chapter 18. The non-perfect non-storm. Why we think that climate change is impossibly difficult. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent; it enables a limitless range of self-serving interpretations; and it is uncanny, creating a discomfort in the discordance between the familiar that has become dangerous. As such, climate change has become a [super-]wicked problem.

“Climate change is very difficult, but don’t perfectly difficult.” Again the multivalent nature of the problem. Unfortunately we use every excuse in the book, not as excuse, but usually as the unconscious patterns of avoiding anxiety. This is especially so in that as human beings we have caused the problem, and therefore we might be [are] hurting the ones we love. Climate change is also an uncanny condition, a problem that is familiar enough, seemingly recognizable and yet dangerous in every aspect.

Summary #2. We scan information for cues as to whether we should pay attention to it or not. Without salience or social cues, climate change lies outside the analytic frame; we respond to our socially constructed stories, and as such, we have no effective overcome.

The complexity of our patterns is amazing, especially our cognitive biases. In reading this book, I am deeply impressed by the incredible sophistication by which we humans manage information (or actively ignore it). Amazing, but in this particular issue of global warming, not necessarily to our advantage, and quite frankly to our disadvantage.

Chapter 19. Cockroach tours. How museums struggle to tell the climate story. Museums struggle to find ways of talking about climate change that are interesting, engaging, and truthful to the science, yet able to navigate the politics. In the age of information overload, they attempt to create a sound-bite. Unfortunately, most of their funding comes from the fossil fuel industry.

Sad! Museums (at least some) could be so much more. What I have noticed in my years is that museums have shifted from places of information for adults to places of entertainment for children. Generally I won’t go to museums anymore — the emotional atmosphere is too frenetic.

Chapter 20. Tell me a story. Why lies can be so appealing. Stories are the means by which the emotional brain makes sense of the information collected by the rational brain. As compared to the complex multivalent reality of climate change, people will accept a fictional story if it has narrative fidelity (that is, based on whether the quality of the information it contains hangs together or not).

Narrative fidelity! I can’t help but be amazed again — we are so sophisticated, and yet so gullible. No wonder the advertising (and disinformation) systems are so powerful. Perhaps I am naïve, but I like to believe that advertising was originally meant to provide information so as to allow reasoned choice — it certain no longer does that in the modern world.

Chapter 21. Powerful words. How the words we use affect the way we feel. Words are heard within defined frames of meaning. False friends are words that sound the same but mean something different, and thus engage different frames. They can create considerable confusion in any kind of communication. For example, global warming was shifted to climate change because it sounded less emotive, and had less connection to the burning of fossil fuels. The second major building block of narrative is metaphor; through metaphor, we engage our most available previous experience to make sense of new information. Metaphors then engage the frames that allow us to think about the next issue.

Indeed words are powerful, and so sad that we have subverted human intelligence to consumerism.

To be continued.