There are many sources of information which describe with clarity how our political leaders are failing to adequately address the reality of climate change and global warming, despite over 25 years of increasingly urgent and dire warnings about the possible impacts. While it may be too late to stop catastrophic warming and impacts to civilization, many people still don’t even talk about it, even if they have been directly impacted by weather events caused, or contributed to, by climate change.
That’s because, according to George Marshall, author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change “the problem with climate change is it gives us the choice to believe what we want to believe, because the science cannot say ‘on Friday afternoon January 22nd this will happen.’ It says ‘as time goes on, there will be a greater tendency for this or that. In other words, it feels like a gamble and the problem is, is that we’re not rational when it comes to this.” This is called confirmation bias in psychology and we all do this all the time, ‘cherry picking’ information to reinforce our own pre-conceived ideas. George is the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network in England and is a leading expert on climate change communications.
But that doesn’t mean he spares his fellow environmental campaigners from criticism on this issue. As he says “of all things, we’ve turned the polar bear into an icon, this animal that people have no personal experience of, that’s so far away from their lives, these are all ways that we distance it and we do it quite deliberately. We’re all willing participants in this. We’re all actively cherry-picking the storyline which serves the interests of what we want.”
Central to this failure to act is the inability to properly communicate what is at stake and when, while acknowledging the fact that the ‘uncertainty’ regarding the science doesn’t mean we should delay action, but to act sooner. This is how the U.S. government approaches defense spending, uncertainty about threats means they want to prepare for any potential scenario. But even though the Pentagon has called climate change a ‘national security threat multiplier‘, there’s still little leadership for action.
That’s one reason that my other guest, Naomi Oreskes wrote The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, to “communicate what we though was at stake” and “tell a story about what climate change looked like from the point of view of people and particularly from the social, economic and political perspective.” Co-authored with Eric Conway, the book is a history written 300 years in the future about our present situation and what happened when nothing was done to deal with climate change. Orekes says that it seemed to her that most people don’t understand why climate change should matter to them when warnings about it usually reference ‘the future’, noting that even those who accept the scientific evidence “lacked a sense of urgency about addressing it.”
“Half of all carbon in our atmosphere has been emitted since 1988.”
And there are the people who “rejected climate science because they didn’t like its political implications. Because they believe that if climate change were true, that we would have to have massive government intervention in the marketplace to deal with the problem. And so therefore they thought they were defending democracy, that they were defending free market capitalism, that they were defending personal freedom and liberty by resisting calls for government intervention to do something about climate change. Ironic because they determined that by halting action on climate change, they increased the likelihood that there would need to be more intrusive government intervention in the future to deal with the crises caused by climate disruption.”
“You know it’s happening, you know there’s stuff going on, you just simply, somehow, even without negotiating it, even without talking about why you don’t talk about it, you somehow simply know that’s it’s not something to talk about.”