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Five ways to communicate about climate change (Part 1)

Our brains aren't fit for purpose. Turns out that our highly developed brains aren't good at long-term emergencies, distant effects of our actions and phenomenon that doesn't match our identity and world-view.

This was my take-away from a recent interview with Per Espen Stoknes, a psychologist with a PhD in economics, chairs the Center for Green Growth at the Norwegian Business School.

"Long-term surveys show that people were more concerned with climate change in wealthy democracies 25 years ago than they are today. So the more science, the more Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments we have, the more the evidence accumulates, the less concerned the public is. To the rational mind this is a complete mystery."

His research and writing presents five "psychological defenses":

  • Distance - we have a hard time comprehending and valuing issues not in our personal space or direct we don't

  • Doom - we tend to be both fascinated and frozen with bad news (thus the dizzying amount of "click bait" and bad news stories); doomsday scenarios of rising sea levels might be scientifically reasonable projections but aren't correlated with motivating behavior

  • Dissonance - when a tension arises between how we live (what we do) and what we know (our knowledge) we experience dissonance. If we downplay or tune-out what we know, we feel better about how we live.

  • Denial - fear and guilt are very painful emotions that most people spend their time trying to avoid; denial is a handy device that allows us to push away these feelings and vilify those who would push them back in our face

  • Identity - decades of research has confirmed our "confirmation bias" and "motivated reasoning" tendencies that make us see things, as Anais Nin once said, not as they are but as we are

Tomorrow....communication strategies that work.

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