Monday, 25 August 2014

Climate change: the language of framing....................... "Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change"

The issue of climate change has made a return to the media of late:
Futures Forum: Climate change: "Britain's crumbling rail network is at risk of a repeat of the severe disruption of last winter."
Futures Forum: Climate change: IPPR's Low Carbon Manifesto: "there should be a shift in focus away from large-scale generation to energy efficiency, new sources of finance for low-carbon infrastructure and a recognition of the huge role that the regions play in low-carbon energy generation."

A book has just come out this month:
Amazon.com: Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (9781620401330): George Marshall: Books

And it has caught the media's eye on both sides of the Pond:

Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change

By Matthew Hutson August 21

Recently I learned about “Prius repellent” — a tricked-out truck takes deep swigs of diesel and spews black smog all over a tailing vehicle, preferably a hybrid. These ominous clouds signal that, in our national conversation about climate change, something has gone very wrong.

George Marshall, a founder of the Climate Outreach think tank, tries to get us talking productively in his intelligent and genial new book, “Don’t Even Think About It.” He visits with fellow environmentalists, with psychologists and policy analysts, and with political opponents — even sharing a few laughs in the lair of 40 Texas tea partyers — to try to understand just why people are so prone to deny or ignore climate change.

Some of the answers are familiar. Humans respond most urgently to threats that are present, concrete and definite — a mugger, say. But climate change is gradual, hard to observe and indefinite, at least in terms of its eventual magnitude and effects on our personal lives. Addressing it requires making palpable sacrifices now in order to prevent unclear costs in the distant future. Global warming also doesn’t automatically raise our moral hackles, as there’s no clear enemy who wants to destroy our world. If anyone is to blame, the culprit is me, you and everyone we know. So it’s in our own self-interest — though perhaps not in the interest of our future selves, those poor schlubs — to play down the danger, if not outright deny it.

In 42 short chapters, Marshall also covers some less-obvious ground. For instance, you might think that surviving a weather disaster would raise your alert level on climate change. Not always — near-misses give people a sense of invulnerability. What’s more, after a community floods or burns to the ground, people just want to get their lives back to normal and not worry about some even larger threat.

You might think that having kids would turn your attention toward the mess you might be leaving them. Nope. The optimism bias kicks into high gear, enhancing your view of your eco-legacy. Plus, you’re too busy changing diapers to worry about the long-term benefits of recycling.

’Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall (Bloomsbury USA)

You might think that environmental campaigns reminding people to be green would, well, make people green. But they communicate individual responsibility, and thus blame, which leads to resentment. One study found that conservatives were less likely to buy a low-energy light bulb when the package said “protect the environment.” And people who do buy such light bulbs feel morally licensed to use them more, countering the gains.

You might think that climate-change deniers are short on scientific literacy. But everyone’s heard the facts about greenhouse gases. At this point, deniers are actually better versed in science than are accepters. Rather, political forces shape their attitudes. Marshall quotes the ethicist Clive Hamilton: “Denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information.”

Those who traffic in “Prius repellent” are no doubt repelled by Priuses and everything they stand for. When Marshall spoke with the tea party activists, a running theme was “control.” Any mention of carbon triggered their fears of the government taking over their lives via regulation of this basic element. Climate change “is polluted with cultural values,” Marshall writes. “It becomes a toxic C-word for politicians and communicators. It is largely ignored by the media.” Well, you’re reading about it now, but Marshall writes that climate change was not mentioned once in the 2012 debates between Obama and Romney.

The role of culture makes the framing of problems and solutions crucial, Marshall argues. In fact, he regrets the framing of climate change as an environmental issue, rather than one of economics, health, human rights or defense. Hugging trees seems superfluous compared with preventing unemployment, starvation and war. As a result of its identification with the environment, he notes, climate change gets far fewer mentions on the Web sites of human rights organizations than do donkeys and ice cream. (He counted.)

Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change - The Washington Post

George Marshall, therefore, is not in the business of proselytising - but prefers to talk about 'framing' and 'narratives':

Don't even think about it: Why we are wired to ignore climate change

By George Marshall Published August 22, 2014

To create proximity we need to EMPHASIZE THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS HAPPENING HERE AND NOW. In particular, we should BE WARY OF CREATING DISTANCE by framing climate change as a future threat for people far away and, especially, as a threat for nonhumans, however cute they might be.

Whatever the findings of psychology experiments with their weird experimental subjects, we need to remember that not everyone wants to protect the status quo, especially if they are already struggling against economic and social injustice. So we need a NARRATIVE OF POSITIVE CHANGE, in which our adaptation to climate change does not just protect what is already here but also creates a more just and equitable world.

We interpret climate change through frames, which focus our attention but limit our understanding — they allow us to exclude or ignore meanings that lie outside the frame. Most of the factors that enable us to ignore climate change derive from attempts to limit its meaning; that it is an environmental issue, a threat or an opportunity (but not both), a wellhead problem or a tailpipe problem (but not both). So, RESIST SIMPLE FRAMINGS and BE OPEN TO NEW MEANINGS.

Because climate change is a wicked problem, it can easily become defined entirely by its own framings and the solutions we propose, and policy makers can easily become locked into the simple one-off solutions that solve tamer problems. We all need to ENSURE THAT A WIDE RANGE OF SOLUTIONS IS CONSTANTLY UNDER REVIEW — a process that planners call iterative risk management.

Frames define battlegrounds, and so limited frames can lead to false debates. Arguments that renewable energy brings greater energy security encourage the expansion of domestic fossil fuels. Arguments that the low-carbon economy will bring jobs become vulnerable to evidence that the high-carbon economy might bring more jobs. As the cognitive linguist George Lakoff says, NEVER ACCEPT YOUR OPPONENT'S FRAMES — "don't negate them, or repeat them, or structure your arguments to counter them."

Climate change is a narrative, shaped through social negotiations and transmitted between peers. People form their response to the narratives, not the science, and so it always needs to FOLLOW NARRATIVE RULES, WITH RECOGNIZEABLE ACTORS, MOTIVES, CAUSES, AND EFFECTS. People will be inclined to follow the most compelling narrative, so be careful: DON'T LET THE NARRATIVE TAKE OVER the way we think or talk about it.

What is clear is that this is a fast-moving issue and everything will change. At present, climate change exists largely as a narrative of anticipation shaped by familiar experience and existing frames. But momentous shifts are under way in the world's climate systems and carbon cycles, which will, within a single lifetime, make climate change entirely real, salient, and unavoidable.

Above all, it is critical that we CLOSE THE PARTISAN GAP between left and right by opening up climate change to conservative framings and ownership. This should start with AFFIRMING WIDER VALUES, which, it is well established experimentally, makes people far more willing to accept information that challenges their worldview. This requires communicators to reverse the normal flow that converts the science into people's values and begin by understanding and validating their values first and then come up with the ways that climate change can speak to those values.

Don't even think about it: Why we are wired to ignore climate change | GreenBiz.com

From earlier in the year, he talked to the Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins.
Click to listen to a very lucid and honest interview:

George Marshall on communicating climate change following extreme weather events

COIN, the Climate Outreach and Information Network, recently published a great report called After the floods: communicating climate change around extreme weather, which set out to explore our "complex attitudes to climate change and extreme weather events". Why do extreme weather events not necessarily mean that people "get" climate change? How should Transition initiatives in communities hit by extreme weather talk about climate change with their neighbours? These are just some of the vital questions we explored with George Marshall, COIN's founder, in a long and fascinating interview.

I went to Dawlish the other day, where the railway line was washed into the sea recently, and the town took a complete pasting. I met an old man there who’d lived in Dawlish for many years and we sat and looked out over the town together and I asked him about the storm. He said, “it’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen anything like it.” I said “so do you make any link between what you saw that night and climate change?” He said, “oh I don’t believe in climate change.” He said, “do you?” and I said “I do, very much so.” He said, “well I do believe that since the beginning of the industrial revolution we’ve poured huge amounts of gases and pollutants into the atmosphere and that that has changed the climate, but I don’t believe in climate change.” Can you explain that?

I can counter that with another quote. I have a book coming out later this year on the psychology of climate change. I started with a quote from Leon Frankfurter who was a high court judge in the US. He was given a presentation by a man who first hand had seen the clearing of the Warsaw ghetto by the Nazis during the Second World War and the herding of Jews into concentration camps. He reported all of this to Judge Frankfurter who was a Jew himself and Frankfurter said “I cannot believe you.” So the guy said “are you crazy, this is an eyewitness testimony.” But Judge Frankfurter says “No, I’m not saying he’s lying. I said I simply cannot believe him and these are different things.” This was interesting from a Supreme Court judge.

I think what your guy in Dawlish was saying the same. He’s saying two things, that he can accept the abstract sense of it but he cannot accept or believe in the moral or personal or emotional implications of it. In other words, when he sees the destruction which is that knowledge manifested, he can’t accept it. I think psychologically we can do this very well, quite consciously. There are things that we know that when we’re asked about it we say “I know that”, but we hold back from accepting or recognising that belief.

Did you think there’s an element to it as well which is somehow that even by now the words “climate change” have become so loaded that somebody who’s very conservative, even though they may agree with climate change, as soon as they use the words ‘climate change’ somehow they feel they’ve put themselves in a box with ‘that lot’?

Absolutely. It’s very clear that that happens. In cognitive linguistics, they talk about ‘the language of framing’ which a lot of people are now familiar with. Within a terminology of framing you understand that certain words become what we call frames. That is to say that when the words are used they bring into play a whole very wide range of values and attitudes and cultural shapes, and climate change is definitely that, as is ‘global warming’ of course, which is a parallel phrase but actually has its own slightly different separate meaning.

It’s very clear that for many people, particularly people who are conservative, particularly people who are older, they can accept the content of climate science. Many of the people who say they don’t believe in climate change are well educated scientifically but they will not accept the full meaning of it.

George Marshall on communicating climate change following extreme weather events | Transition Network

See also:
Futures Forum: Flooding in the West Country... and coastal communities
Futures Forum: Flooding in the West Country... and climate change

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