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.
To be continued.