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Monday, November 15, 2010

Your Double Life: Kari Marie Norgaard on How to become a global warming Denier

Kari Marie Norgaard
Welcome to the woman who enjoys pretty much any excuse she can get to sleep on the ground, calls her husband Salmon, and is a sociologist who's studied public attitudes towards climate science.

The Five Questions
And who knows the answers to these questions:
  • Do we know why well educated and relatively privileged people have failed to act on the threat posed by global warming?
  • Do we know why information about global warming alone does not seem to persuade people to take steps to fight the threat?
  • Is the problem that people do not care about global warming because they are either too greedy or too selfish to bother about future generations, or don’t think it will impact them?
  • Are people doing very little because they believe that everything is just fine, for 1 or more of 4 reasons (because they think global warming is not really happening, or that their government will take care of the problem, or that international agreements will happen and cure the problem, or, perhaps, because we will find innovative ways to solve the problem)?
  • Are people comfortable about talking about global warming?
Norgaard, whose book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life is due out in March 2011,  says the answers to these questions are: Yes, Yes, No, No and No.
Banksy

Why we live in a bubble

In her May 2009 paper entitled Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change, Norgaard reviews some recent papers on climate issues, and comes to some fascinating conclusions, based on these papers and on her own research.
Norgaard says that although climate change is real and is an issue of global environmental justice, for urban dwellers in rich Northern countries climate change is seen as background noise, requiring no steps on their part.
She has studied the questions posed above, and concluded that many of us live in a bubble of denial:
In order to have a positive sense of self-identity and get through the day, we’re constantly being selective of what we think about and pay attention to. To create a sense of a good, safe world for ourselves, we screen out all kinds of information, from where food comes from to how our clothes our made. When we talk with our friends, we talk about something pleasant.
For us to live in some comfort in this bubble of denial, we practice some of the methods used by those who deny that global warming exists, or is a threat that requires action on our part to overcome.
What to do, what to do ...

How does one get past these denial-tactics, so that we can win the support of millions in the
wealthier nations in the fight to save our earth? This is the question our hero, Nick, faces in our thriller, Obelisk Seven; as the novel progresses, he finds means to answer the question, some of which fit right in with the suggestions made by Norgaard in her 2009 paper mentioned above.
In Tables 4, 5 and 6 of that paper, she sets out a How-To list for climate change activists, with details of the problems caused by the bubble of denial, and with good, solid, practical recommended courses of action. Those three tables are worthy of study by you if you are an activist.; many of them are consistent with our ealier posts on the same issue – click here, here and here for them.
Norgaard writes:
Data from the above studies indicate that people DO care about climate change, and do support stronger climate policies. The notion that people already want to “do the right thing” is an extremely hopeful piece of information which can and should be used as the centerpiece of developing successful policy.
The presence of such support has been masked by our misinterpretation of the psychological mechanisms of denial ...
In order to counter the fact that people don’t like to feel powerless, we must not only design policies in which citizens appear more powerful, but we also need to provide a playing field upon which their actions actually do matter.
A little taste

Now for a taste of some of her How-To ideas:
What can we do about cognitive dissonance (people block information about global warming so as to maintain coherent meaning systems), and about people's desire to protect their individual identity (because they avoid threats to that identity)?
Her answer is that we must frame the climate message in non-threatening ways, and provide information that participation opportunities that build on a favorable view of the self.
How do we overcome negative emotions as response barriers of people (global warming evokes this response, and thinking about it leads to negative emotions and is disempowering to the individual)?
Her answer is to create positive associations, such as through providing opportuniies to participate in response efforts; she gives a list of actions you can take to do so.
What do we do about denial by people? She says we should create a set of realistic opportunities for paticipating in positive actions; in doing so, forget about focusing too much on information and rather focus on what can and should be done, while emphasising that it is not too late to do anything and we can still make a difference.
Some other pieces of advice include providing information on how local events are connected to global warming (make it personal); and discussing future scenarios for specific places at specific dates so that they can be better visualized.

Her positive conclusion

Her conclusion is positive:
Because the majority of people are already concerned about climate change and how to make a difference, individuals and communities CAN be mobilized for response, if negative psychological pitfalls are to be avoided.
Check out her BBC interview here, and take a few minutes to read her paper – it's pretty interesting- and her website.
Thanks, Kari!

1 comment:

Some more of my random posts for you:

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