The difficulty of communicating climate change

I haven’t mentioned RealClimate here for quite some time (old posts are here) but continue to follow its articles and browse the comments pages, because it’s such a great source of informed debate about climate science. This recent exchange amongst the comments on a post about climate “skepticism” caught my eye because Dan Miller’s explanation for the difficulty of communicating the climate crisis is so succinct.

Gordon Shephard said:
… Ernest Becker, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Denial of Death,” argues that anxiety about one’s mortality is (for the vast majority of people) the psyche’s strongest motivator. It is not that people don’t believe they are going to die, or that they fear death specifically, but that they hope that, somehow, their symbolic immortality will be assured as long as their particular vision of the future of humanity persists. Tell someone that their particular version is doomed, and they will fight you tooth and nail.
Certainly some individuals have conscious motives for “sowing confusion.” But many will feel (unconsciously) that the possibility of a radical change in the course of humanity’s future (such as that which will result from significant climate change) is a direct threat to their vision of their symbolic immortality. They will grasp the thinnest of straws just to say it isn’t so.

Dan Miller replied:
In addition to the psychological resistance to a vision of a failed future, there are other psychological barriers to facing climate change.
Humans evolved to filter information and focus on near-term dangers, like a lion approaching. There are six triggers that get us to focus on a problem: 1. Immediate, 2. Visible, 3. Historical Precedence, 4. Simple Causality, 5. Direct Personal Consequences, and 6. Caused by an Enemy. Until recently, climate change had 0 of 6 (you could now say that it is somewhat visible). Number 6 is an important one… imagine if we found out tomorrow that all the excess CO2 is being released by North Korea in order to destabilize the climate. We would take care of that swiftly!
It’s almost as if the climate crisis was designed by a diabolical genius specifically so that we will not respond in time. You can see more on this in my TEDx talk.

The Water Knife

cover of 'The Water Knife'The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi, May 2015

The Water Knife is a vision of an imminent future well worth avoiding: water wars in a fragmented US as droughts get steadily worse. It may be the most brutal book I have ever finished and you really don’t want anyone you care about to live in a world like it.

That said, it is both an important, timely novel of ideas and a gritty thriller. SF at its best does thought-experiments really well, Continue reading “The Water Knife”

Dubai, city of the future

Keen-eyed regular readers of Green Path may have noticed that my recent posts about my European holiday were time-reversed as compared to the holiday itself. This post completes the sequence in that it begins in Dubai, the first stopover on the trip. However, it isn’t really about Dubai but about climate change and what it may mean to us in daily life. The connection is personal but direct.  Continue reading “Dubai, city of the future”

Townsville update

It is six weeks since this blog has mentioned Townsville or any other part of North Queensland, but plenty has been happening whether I have been there for it or not. I still want to write a little more about Europe but, first, here is some local news.

Strand Ephemera 2015 coincided, deliberately or not, with the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. Locals with day jobs trying to get to the AFCM may have had trouble squeezing in a visit to the Strand but I’m sure our visiting AFCM aficionados loved the free show; I hope to put up some of my photos soon.

Umbrella Studio has a small (stairwell space) exhibition with an environmental theme, Mapping Climate Change. I know that the opening this evening (with two other shows in the Studio) will be the first chance to see it, but even its FB page doesn’t seem to show a closing date … better get along soon to make sure you don’t miss it.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Queensland folk (including me) have enjoyed another of their (our) regular field trips, this time to the beach near AIMS. The branch blog has a full report here and information about the next trip, to Rowes Bay at low tide on Sunday 30 August, here. For more environmental news in the region – cassowaries, the passing of Felicity Wishart, a coal and climate change forum, etc, see the home page of WQ Townsville.

Townsville takes part in the Global day of Climate Action

crowd with placards
The obligatory crowd photo

Today’s global day of climate action represents a remarkable collaboration of environmental and community groups around the world, led by 350.org. Here in Townsville, NQCC provided the leadership and a sizeable crowd assembled on the Strand for music, face-painting and speeches from Wendy Tubman and Sandy McCathie. Rather than a march we had a staged photo-op: dozens of people on the beach with their heads in the sand in imitation of a certain Mr Abbott (certain, that is, that climate change is crap and that he doesn’t need to listen to anyone who thinks otherwise; he’s wrong on both counts, of course).

It was a positive event in the same style as the National Day of Climate Action in June: a gathering of like-minded people for a good cause, having fun in beautiful surroundings as well as making a serious point.

350.org is assembling a photo gallery on flickr; Australian images are here. I haven’t yet seen photos of the completed heads-in-the-sand panorama but here’s one showing people beginning to get ready for it.

preparing to  dig
Playing on the beach – seriously

Update, 24.9.14

The media coverage has now peaked:

  • Avaaz has a great collection of photos from around the world accompanied by front-page newspaper coverage.
  • GetUp! has a good collection on instagram.
  • More locally, the Townsville Bulletin had no coverage at all on Monday (except a short report from AAP of the Cairns rally, which was presumably ‘news’ because it was held outside the G20 finance ministers’ meeting) but came to the party on Tuesday with a cute photo of a child in costume and a brief report.
  • The “heads in the sand” photo (below) from Cranky Curlew has attracted quite a lot of attention including a spot on Channel 10’s “The Project” yesterday evening.

Townsville Salutes