Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Since 1989, when the IPCC was formed, climate science has become clearer and clearer how urgent and serious and human-caused this is. The more people hear that and that science is pushed in our rich or wealthy Western democracies, the less people care. So how can it be that with the more certainty and the more clear a science, the less concern in the public? Because surveys show this. And this is what I call the psychological climate paradox.
Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds On a deeper level, the research question that’s been driving me is this– are humans inevitably short term? Is it the case that the way our brain is built together as a species, our setup to just go on eating our cake and having all our fun, and not thinking much about the long term– is that how we are going to end? Many people seem to think that with the population growth, economic growth, the decline. And again, being a psychotherapist, I wanted to switch that into a positive framing, which is the question under what conditions will humans take action for the long term.
Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds And to answer those questions, I wrote this book. And I summarised about 300, 400 articles from psychology, sociology, social anthropology, and behavioural economics. And then I simplified it into five barriers that keep us from engaging with climate change. So lots of studies show that we have at least five. Many other authors have more. But the five that I have identified is the distance barrier, the doom barrier, the dissonance barrier, the denial barrier, and the identity barrier. They’re all defences or barriers starting with d except the last one. We had to cheat a little bit with the identity one.
Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds And then having made these barriers clear and how they work, what do we know, actually, from experiments and studies about how do we actually get people to care, to engage in climate rather than being put off and disengaged by the doom and the gloom and the distancing of it all? So the second part of the book, which is called Doing– the first part is called Thinking, the other part is Doing– looks at if we try for 25 years to tell people the facts, how terrible it’s going to be, and that doesn’t work, what can we do differently in climate communications to help people engage. And this, as I see it, is climate leadership from a social psychology point of view.
Skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds Before I go into that, I’d like to add that it’s really easy to solve the climate problem. Many people think it’s a wicked, hopeless, difficult problem. But from a policy point of view, it’s very easy. What you do is mainly one thing– you slap a proper price on carbon. And I’m talking about $100 per tonne and up. And then use some of that money to educate women, particularly in developing countries with high birth rates. Because then their birthrate goes down, and you take care of the population growth. And finally, you give the rest of the money back to everybody equally. And that’s a solution that’s been proven. We know it works.
Skip to 3 minutes and 49 seconds But the main question remains– if we know the solution, why do not we implement it? How can it be that the facts about the crisis are so clear, the facts about the solutions are so clear, but we do not act upon it? And the main reason, of course, is that politicians and economists know what to do, but they don’t know how they put that kind of price on carbon and get re-elected, in a democracy, at least, next year. So they put it off. They try all kinds of things with subsidies and speeches and energy efficiency, blah, blah. But it doesn’t just quite cut it. Because the bottom up support for those structural solutions aren’t strong enough yet.
Skip to 4 minutes and 37 seconds So we have to build the bottom up support. How do we do that? And luckily, we have lots of experiments and lots of studies that actually show this clearly. And the main strategy is rather than to make it distant and abstract, we must make it social, so using the power of social networks. If I see my friend doing something, if I see my neighbour, if my colleague at the job does something, then it is perceived as near, personal, and urgent. Because as humans, we are social, flock animals. It’s hard for me abstractly to think about the year 2100. But when my neighbour does something, then it’s visible. It feels personal and near.
Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds So we have to bring it inside the social networks with social norms, social media, local issues, and also make it a bit more fun with flow and glow rather than the gloom and the sacrifice and the cost, all these kind of things. So that connects us to the second solution, which is reframing climate change. Studies show that from the media side, at least, more than 80% of all climate news has been framed within the catastrophe framing. 80%. So we’ve been hearing about the catastrophe for 25 years, mostly, and very little about the opportunities, relatively.
Skip to 6 minutes and 1 second So what we know from psychology is that we should switch that from having a cost and sacrifice– you shouldn’t fly a plane, you shouldn’t eat the meat, you aren’t allowed to drive the car, or we’re all going to burn in hell– it just doesn’t hit a majority of the population. It might motivate 10% to 15%, but not more. We know three framings that actually work. One is that if you position climate as a health issue– so it has to do with the health of your respiratory things, like asthma, diseases, pollen, whatever. Then also, on the positive side, if you eat less red meat and go more biking than driving, it’s good for your health.
Skip to 6 minutes and 40 seconds So what’s good for your health is good for the climate, and vice versa. That’s the health issue. Second is reframing climate as an insurance policy. Because we all pay fire insurance, even though we don’t really believe our house will burn down. But it might, so we pay 3% of our income in fire insurance. If we do that, why can’t we pay 1% in climate insurance? And that would solve the climate problem. That’s all we need, 1% of the GDP. Finally, there’s the opportunity framings. Because so many new innovations, disruptive entrepreneurs, wonderful solutions are now available that makes our life smarter and more fun, cleaner, and with less emissions.
Skip to 7 minutes and 24 seconds And we need to speak more about those, how our society would be better in terms of quality of life, and at the same time reduce emissions. So that’s the supportive framings. Social networks, supportive framings, and the third is making it simple. Because being climate friendly today is quite difficult in terms of behaviour. I have to maybe go through the whole store, read the declarations, and this toothpaste or that one is the right one. And if I buy a new tumbler dryer or a new washing machine, it’s very hard to figure out which is the best. I can always see these energy labels, but then I look at the price.
Skip to 7 minutes and 58 seconds So studies show that if I could make the lifecycle cost salient, so it’s clear, rather than the sales price, big font for this lifecycle, small font for the purchase price, then people shift their behaviour, because it’s easy to pick the most climate friendly option. So that’s an example of making it simple. Another example is if you switch the default on all printers in the EU from one sided to double sided so you don’t have to remember to click Print Double Sided, then it saves about 15% of 20% of paper consumption, which is equivalent to about a million tonnes of CO2 per year in the EU, just by shifting a software default switch.
Skip to 8 minutes and 37 seconds So now we have social network, supportive framings, simple actions or nudging, and the fourth is the storytelling. Because again, the dominant story has been the cost story and the sacrifice and the catastrophe. The new story we need to hear more about is the story of green, smart growth, how we can make things smarter and greener and more profitable with less emissions. Second is the quality of life story, where we have better lives with less material consumption, which we know from psychological science is not just possible, but true. We also have the greening of religion, and we have the rewilding stories. So these new stories make it much more attractive to join.
Skip to 9 minutes and 30 seconds And we can also envision better where our society is going. The point is, if you cannot see or envision a society that is better with lower emissions, we’re not going to work to make it happen. And also, if I feel it’s only me, then I will feel helpless. But if I can feel that this is a story, a narrative about where we are heading, that many people are joining, then I feel community, and I feel empowered. So that’s how stories can give directions and also make us sense that others are with me on this. Stories create community. And finally, to make this credible and not just greenwashing, we need signals on how our society is responding.
Skip to 10 minutes and 25 seconds Climate communicators have been overusing signals such as the PPM of CO2 in the atmosphere, and sea level rise in inches predicate, or global average surface temperature in Farenheit or Celsius per century. But these are not signals that people can relate to in any way, so they just make them feel helpless. These are climate system indicators. We need to shift to societal response indicators where we can see that if I go biking, for instance, to city this day, I can see when I come biking, there’s a sign. There was 501 bikes. And when I pass, it goes to 502. And that is more than last year.
Skip to 11 minutes and 1 second So if we can have these kind of indicators– how much is my CO2 footprint in an app, daily updated, how’s my house using power today compared to last year or last month, if the company I work for– is that part of the solution in terms of reducing emissions, and the city I live in, how are we doing– these are all signals that we need to keep up the motivation. Otherwise, we feel that whatever I do doesn’t matter, which is not conducive to engagement. Rather, it kills engagement.
What we think about when we try not to think about global warming
How can it be that with growing certainty and more clear science, there is less concern in the public? This question has guided Per Espen Stoknes, psychologist and economist, in all his work during recent years. In this video he suggests an alternative way of communicating climate change - moving from the doom and the gloom.
For Per Espen Stoknes, solving the problem of climate change is easy.
Many people think it’s a wicked, hopeless, difficult problem. But from a policy point of view, it’s very easy. What you do is mainly one thing– you slap a proper price on carbon.
The problem, according to Stoknes, is not that we do not know what we need to do, but rather that the bottom up support for those kind of solutions is not strong enough yet. That’s why climate change communication is so important. In his video, Stoknes identifies both existing barriers in current narratives -
And then I simplified it into five barriers that keep us from engaging with climate change [—] the distance barrier, the doom barrier, the dissonance barrier, the denial barrier, and the identity barrier.
and suggests new narratives including social networks, re-fraiming climate change, simple actions or nudging, storytelling and new signals that people can see and understand.
The point is, if you cannot see or envision a society that is better with lower emissions, we’re not going to work to make it happen. And also, if I feel it’s only me, then I will feel helpless. But if I can feel that this is a story, a narrative about where we are heading, that many people are joining, then I feel community, and I feel empowered. So that’s how stories can give directions and also make us sense that others are with me on this. Stories create community.
You can find more articles and watch a short video by Per Espen Stoknes at his blog http://stoknes.no/ and for the long read his book What we think about when we try not to think about global warming: toward a new psychology of climate action from 2015.
© Per Espen Stoknes, CEMUS and Uppsala University