Tag Archives: duplicity

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 2

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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. In reading the book, I was surprised by some of the research that he encountered. Hence, I believe it important to disseminate his findings.

Chapter 6. The jury of our peers. How we follow the people around us. We watch the behavior of others to identify an appropriate response to situations (the bystander effect or pluralistic ignorance). If no one is responding to a crisis, then it must not be a crisis! However, caution must be noted with the slippery we.

Again — trust! But in attempting to generate inclusion and response (the ‘slippery we’), it is easy to alienate those who do trust the “message.”

Chapter 7. The power of the mob. How bullies hide in the crowd. According to self-categorization theory, we seek to establish similarity with the groups that we identify with, and differences against the people who are not like us. This leads both sides to under-estimate the diversity of views within their own ranks and those of their opponents. One of the consequences is that the in-group often develops a sense of superiority. The advent of the Internet has produced entirely new areas of communication, and has allowed frequent outright bullying of the out-group because of the anonymity provided.

The noise of our culture distracts from awareness. Here, for me, Marshall identifies one of the major complexities of modern living — we have too many people, many of whom are  formulating logical and ethical difficulties (of which a major one is global warming) as emotional issues. And in so doing, they add huge noise which confuses the system.

Chapter 8. Through a glass darkly. The strange world of climate deniers. For conservatives, climate change has become an issue at just the right time to replace the Red Menace bogeyman that had so long been the mobilizing enemy.

Disinformation! Marshall suggests that a major transition in the climate denial store occurred with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is a fascinating hypothesis, and one that is consistent with the emotional issues.

Chapter 9. Inside the elephant. Why we keep searching for enemies. In the end, many struggles come down to there being identifiable vested interests; however, we usually forget that we are participants in those interests. The real difficulty is your own immaturity, especially our inability to deal with our own shadows.

In a super-wicked difficulty, we are the participants. This is the central thesis of this blog — that the major issue is our acedia, our unwillingness to engage in the painful struggle to maturity. For me, Marshall correctly identifies that we “need to find narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests, and our common humanity.”

Summary #1. Those who passionately accept or passionately deny climate change have one thing in common: they are regard each other as a major threat. However, in between these two conflicting groups, the vast majority of people find it difficult to give any importance to the issue at all; they happily identify that there is a problem, but otherwise, they give it a little  consideration.

An accurate assessment of the complexity.

Chapter 10. The two brains. Why we are so poorly evolved to deal with climate change. Our psychological evolution has prepared us to respond strongly to four key triggers (PAIN): personal, abrupt, immoral, now. Climate change triggers none of these. We can understand the difficulty of climate change with our rational brains, but this does not trigger the emotional brain into action. Climate activists maximize the data without impacting the emotional brain; climate deniers activate emotions, and minimize the data; whereas the group in the middle are aware of the data, and are waiting to see the emotional responses generated as social cues.

Again, an accurate assessment of the complexity.

Chapter 11. Familiar yet unimaginable. Why climate change does not feel dangerous. There are two main drivers of risk perception: 1) dread risk, intergenerational and irreversible, a sense of powerlessness in the face of involuntary and catastrophic impacts, and 2) unknown risk, invisible and unprecedented, an anxiety that comes from the uncertainty of new and unforeseen danger. Because climate change does not have the stigma of attack, and extreme weather events have a degree of familiarity, the uncertainty of climate change does not instill dread or danger. Rather, there is leeway to “believe what you want.” Climate change does not feel threatening, unless you choose to feel that it is.

See the next comment.

Chapter 12. Uncertain long-term costs. Why our cognitive biases line up against climate change. Climate change lacks salience: it is abstract, distant, invisible, and disputed. It requires the acceptance of short-term costs to mitigate higher but uncertain losses in the far future. In addition, disinformation has created uncertainty. To mobilize people, an issue needs to be emotional; it needs to have immediacy and salience — our decisions are directed by largely intuitive mental shortcuts (cognitive biases). It is possible that no amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standards of living.

Sad! As I look around at this very moment on a cold but sunny day in Canadian winter, I do not feel threatened, and I can easily fall into the numbness of “what’s the big deal.” Yet, intellectually, the complexity of the issues overwhelms me, and I truly believe we are shortly destined for extinction. We do not seem capable of managing such complexity.

To be continued.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 1

distrust02I’m going to spend the next few posts examining 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)[1]. Marshall has been a major figure in the international environmental movement, and his book seeks to answer the question of “why, when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?[2]

I encountered his book last year when I was attempting to come to my own answers about this question, and I was surprised by some of the research that he himself encountered. Unfortunately, amongst other sources, the book has only added to my sense of how deeply we are stuck as a society.

However, if we do not find a way through the morass of global warming, the outcome is less than desirable. Hence, I believe it important to disseminate his findings.

I do it also because The Climate Mobilization group to which I belong is developing a process called Crisis Reading groups, providing reading to explore the morass. Although this book is likely too long for this process, a précis of the book might be useful to them.

There are 42 short chapters in Marshall’s book; here in this blog I intend to cover 8-10 chapters per posting, and hence there are likely to be six or so posts on this topic. As format, I shall first list the notes I kept on a given chapter, and then follow each note with reflection as to what I believe to be its importance.

So . . .

Chapter 1. Questions. How is it possible, when presented with overwhelming evidence, that we deliberately choose to ignore something while being entirely aware that this is what we are doing?

As a culture, we both demonstrate awareness of the problem, and ignore the necessary action. In spite of all the rhetoric and disinformation, I continue to believe that the evidence is overwhelming, and that the major problem is the complex nature of our acedia. But understanding is the booby prize. We are currently on a tightrope between disaster and response; I wonder when we will overcome the massive difficulties of response, as well as what environmental disaster will be needed to initiate this mobilization.

Chapter 2. We’ll deal with that lofty stuff some other day. Why disaster victims do not want to talk about climate change. Following the survival of threat, people choose to emphasize the positive, and minimize the negative.

Obviously a survival mechanism, and an useful one for acute issues. The fact that “we survived,” then means that we can feel good about our resilience and the likelihood that we can deal with the next issue. However, it makes it difficult to recognize that there is an underlying chronic problem — a narrative of recovery is more hopeful than impending doom.

Chapter 3. Speaking as a layman. Why we think that extreme weather shows we were right all along. We interpret events in the light of our prior assumptions and prejudices (confirmation bias). We fail to recognize that weather (short-term experience) is different from climate (long-term pattern). Because we are familiar with weather, we tend to interpret climate in a manner that confirms the current weather. For example, cold weather means cold climate; however, periods of cold weather are simply part of the instability of global warming.

Familiarity confuses us! The convincer for people is their own interpretation, confirmed by discussion with the group they trust. It is so difficult to create change because the need is to change the pattern of trust, not the kind or amount of information.

Chapter 4. You never get to see the whole picture. How the Tea Party fails to notice the greatest threat to its values. For many Republicans, the nature of climate change fits perfectly into a set of pre-existing ideological grievances about the distribution of power. They are outsiders driven by their values, defending their rights, and deeply distrustful of government and corporations.

They too want change! Marshall maintains that Republicans, even those as entrenched [my intentional wording] as members of the Tea Party, are seeking the same thing as staunch environmentalists [who, of course, are not entrenched] — they want good information in an age of information overload. Personally, despite having six university degrees, all of them in some kind of science, I do not trust modern science — for me, it is so entrenched in scientific materialism.

Chapter 5. Polluting the message. How science becomes infected with social meaning. Attitudes on climate change have become a social clue as to which group the individual belongs. [NB: the TIC model.]

Science, as imperfect as it is, is not a social issue — it is one of our best attempts at truth. I’ve previously written about Whom Do You Trust, and the TIC Process whereby people are entrenched in their own trust issues. One of the ways, then, of dealing with information overload is to use social cues to group (and assess) information, thus creating a bias of data based on the group presenting the data. Again, trust is the basic issue.

To be continued.

[1] Marshall, G. (2014). Don’t even think about it: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

[2] Marshall, G. http://climatedenial.org, accessed 20170121.

Civil Disobedience

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One of the issues I am pondering these days is that of civil disobedience. The central issue is that of how to respond to a breach of law when the law goes along with the breach. As such, if we are to resolve our cultural dilemma of climate disruption, we must deal with the negative forces that are leading to global warming. In particular, we must recognize that these negative forces are currently poised in the dominator roles of our culture. These powers are in the position to mandate the continuance of:

  1. consumerism,
  2. the military-industrial complex, and
  3. the fossil fuel industry

via legal means, imposed by government forces which are in alignment with these forces; it also means that to resist these forces often requires stepping outside the bounds of legality. To oppose these forces thus requires some form of civil disobedience.

Such disobedience can be placed on a spectrum between sabotage and non-violent civil disobedience (NVCD). Much has been written on NVCD, the earliest being the play Antigone by Sophocles (5th century BCE). The modern writings on NVCD have mainly begun with Thoreau in [On the Duty of] Civil Disobedience, 1848. Thoreau was essentially questioning the distinction between legality and justice, wherein:

It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do what I think right. . . . Law never made men a whit more just; and by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

There is much to be explored in Thoreau’s writing, but essentially he was an advocate of NVCD when government and legal systems were acting in ways that are unjust. His primary suggestions, as elucidated by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, were to:

  • use only moral or legal means to oppose unjust law
    • boycotting, picketing, blocking traffic, non-violent resistance, non-payment of taxes
  • first make an effort to bring about change through legal means
    • work within the system before and during
  • be open and public about actions
    • the disobedience must be fully revealed and public
  • be willing to accept the consequences of such actions
    • prison, fines, deportation, loss of job, social disapproval

The intention behind NVCD is to induce shame in the dominator by highlighting the discordance between legality and justice. The difficulty is that these processes are slow to induce social change: witness the years required before the British Empire released India from colonialization (Gandhi), or the years of societal demonstration before significant reduction of racial inequality (Martin Luther King Jr). The major difficulty with NVCD in regard to global warming is that we probably do not have time for slow resolution; we are too close to the edge of irreversible global catastrophe.

Sabotage, on the other hand, is usually illegal, likely violent or violating, action engaged in secretly, and often such that the perpetrators attempt to avoid the personal consequences of their actions. While sabotage might be somewhat satisfying to the perpetrators, I am not sure it does anything other than anger the recipients, and provide a justification on the part of the dominator for the suppression of any kind of civil disobedience.

In this regard, I have been networking with a group of individuals who seek to offer protection services for groups that engage in civil demonstration, with the purpose being to maintain the principles of NVCD wherein these protest rallies occur. I believe that such protection service is very important, providing safety for all — but it is very easy for individuals to become provocative, or for spectators to provoke, which then leads to antagonistic responses. In particular in the Vancouver area, it appears that a number of neo-Nazi groups are now attempting to be provocative in just this fashion.

Even for the people who offer such protection services, there is a range of responses. Some say that actions such as sabotage can be done without danger to those who simply practice of NVCD. I totally disagree with this — I doubt that the dominator society makes this distinction, and it is likely that if sabotage occurs at the same time as NVCD, repressive responses will be imposed on all, not just the saboteurs.

So, what to do? I do not know. What is fundamentally needed is a massive mobilization of the general populous towards all types of civil disobedience, but forty years of attempting this on the part of many parties has been largely unsuccessful. Sooner or later, enough angst from environmental devastation will occur, but likely it will then be too late.

Sad!

Read the fine print!

Diablo Nuclear Plant to be closed --- maybe?
Diablo Nuclear Plant to be closed — maybe?

I am so tired of the duplicity of our culture!

A colleague Paul Ray sends me lots of information about climate change issues, for which I am very grateful — not only are they usually pertinent, but he often highlights the significant components in the emails he sends.

Such is the case here, referring to the Diablo Nuclear Plant in California: Diablo Shutdown Marks End of Atomic Era . If you scan the article (fairly long), it looks fairly good, but if you read the last dozen paragraphs (all of which Paul highlights), beginning with “But … then listen to the rest of the news …,” it includes closure not until approximately 2025, ongoing environmental violations, possibly no money for the closure and the necessary safety measures, and the possibility that the “closed” plant could continue to operate in an unlicensed fashion.

This duplicity is one of the reasons I push the ideas of my blog (www.thehumansideofglobalwarming.com) and website (www.aplacetwobe.ca): we need emotional maturing of our culture, and essentially the only way in which this will occur is when huge numbers of individuals risk the work of emotional maturity.

In the meantime, we sort through stuff that sounds good, but has many difficulties hidden within (the fine print!).