Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fighting catastrophic climate change: it is a job for psychologists

It is becoming more and more clear that we can't fight catastrophic climate change unless we understand why we can't fight it. And this is a job that involves understanding how the human brain works (if it works!). Here is an excerpt from an article by psychologist Mary Pipher on Time Magazine that examines the question

I’ve learned not to argue too long with people who do not “believe in” human-made climate change. I figure it’s impossible to reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into. But the fact is that even those of us who do believe climate change is man-made are in partial denial about our enormous global problems, and almost all of us minimize or normalize the situation.

Our denial is understandable. Our species is not equipped to respond to the threats posed by global warming. Humans are built to find food and shelter, reproduce, and enjoy each other. We are genetically programmed to react to threats by fleeing or fighting, and at first, our environmental crisis does not seem to allow us to do either. We’re better at dealing with problems that are concrete, close-at-hand, familiar and require skills and tools that we already possess. Our global storm is invisible, unprecedented, drawn out, and caused by all of us. We have Paleolithic arousal systems, Neolithic brains, medieval institutions and 21st century technology—not a good mix for solving our climate problems.


  1. Quite true. We are the problem and we cannot do anything about that.

  2. One part of the problem could well be that we have "Palelithic arousal systems, Neolitichic brains, medieval instituitons and 21st century technology".

    But this hasn't prevented us from identifying and solving lots of other difficult to discern, perceive and respond to problems. Mary Pipher published her article in Time Magazine. What is Time Magazine, who owns it, and what social and political role does it actually play?

    "Our" denial may also be more "understandable" in light of the way climate change has and has not been covered and treated by the mass media. Could this have contributed to why "some people cannot be reasoned out of a position they didn't reason themselves into? " How come they didn't use reason to reason themselves into their position? Maybe they were "helpfully helped" to NOT reason themselves into that particular position? And into many other retrograde our outright reactionary positions they may have that also may not serve their longer term and broader interests? It's not the first time that has happened and it surely won't be the last either.

    And if "even those who do believe climate change is man made are in partial denial about our enormous global problems, could this too be perhaps remotely related to or caused by the kind of mass media coverage there has and there has not been about this aspect too? (the enormous global problems)

    And if my above view may appear to be far too "conspiratorial" to some. then why did the following article come out today?

    Has the author of the article made up the story? Or could there be a "small grain of truth and reality" in it?

    Or perhaps the author wrote it because he has a Paleolithic arousal system, a Neolithic brain and works for a medieval institution (i.e. Reuters where important decisions seem to be being made by some feudal lords behind the scenes) But at least the author's own brain seems to still be functioning. And his ethics too since he both revealed AND resigned.

    My own guess is that Reuters and the New York Times (please read the above article first) and also Time Magazine will be more than happy and willing to keep carrying stories and "explanations" such as the one by Mary Pipher.

    And I even would concede that we may not be optimally hard wired by evolution to perceive all threats properly and respond to them adequately. There is not much we can do about the effects of evolution other than to recognize them and make the best we can with what and who we are. But we don't need to tie our hands (and our minds) by focusing exclusively on our genetic limitations to the exclusion of factors that we CAN do something about. Namely the bias and the political role of the corporate mass media and a good part of mainstream academia too.

    If genetics were the only factor how come the populations of different countries have different levels of denialism or what I call "ostrichism"?

    And I will leave it up to someone else to do the research work to unearth the above statistics for the U.S. and for let's say Norway.