Apparently I am not the only person to wonder what climate change deniers and evaders are thinking and why they are not responding to an obvious, very serious problem. In May 2009, Kari Marie Norgaard published a working paper for The World Bank entitled Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change.
Her salient points are as follows (direct quotes:)
• If significant global warming occurs, it will be primarily the result of an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. And the single most important source of carbon dioxide is the combustion of fossil fuels.
• Climate change . . . . offers a new opportunity for global solidarity and unity.
• Global climate change is a highly significant issue of global environmental justice.
• Public awareness and concern regarding climate change is not a function of scientific information alone, but psychological and sociological issues as well.
• People ACTUALLY WORK TO AVOID ACKNOWLEDGING DISTURBING INFORMATION in order to 1) avoid emotions of fear, guilt and helplessness, 2) follow cultural norms, and 3) maintain positive conceptions of individual and national identity.
• The one criteria of whether an issue will make it to the level of a recognized “social problem” is THAT THE CONDITION CAN BE SOLVED THROUGH COLLECTIVE ACTION.
• This seems to be rather a depressing list, doesn’t it? In response to the above problem, Norgaard asks “How can the knowledge that there are psychological and social barriers to our effective action be turned into a basis of pro-active public policy?” People DO care about climate change, and do support stronger climate policies.” Her solutions for policy makers and activists alike (direct quotes:)
• Frame climate message in ways that are non threatening and that appeal to a positive sense of the self.
• Create a set of realistic opportunities for participating in positive actions. This will contradict isolation, build community, [and] create positive frames of reference.
• Focus on what can and should be done rather than focus overly on information.
• Provide information on how local events are connected to global phenomenon.
• Contradict fear by providing honest information AND hopeful examples.
• Contradict guilt by acknowledging the present and providing opportunities to engage in more responsible behavior.
I would add that activists and policy makers should emphasize that the issue of climate change CAN BE solved through collective action.