Reframing Climate Change Shake the doom and gloom



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Today is Earth Day and based on our present carbon emissions, the Climate Clock tells us that we have 6 years and 91 days left to limit global warming to 1.5C, our opportunity window to make the biggest difference.

Awareness of the need for change on a global scale must be top-of-mind on Earth Day and everyday. The science is clear and global scientists have been calling for climate action for decades, but a 2022 Gallup World Risk Poll found that as the crisis becomes direr, decades of calls to action to curb green-house-gas emissions have led to ’climate fatigue’ around the world.

Globally, concerns over climate change fell 1.5 percent last year. We are seeing drops in climate action with less consumers saying they think its an issue in need of immediate action. The concern is at its lowest in regions with the direst ecological threats – only 24.7% showed concern in the Middle East, and only 39.1% in North Africa. China, the world’s biggest polluter, saw concerns over the climate crisis drop 3 points from 2019 numbers with only 20% saying they are concerned. Some beliefs shift based on scientific messaging on climate change, but the shift is less among the doubtful and dismissive.

The threat of devastating climate change is causing fear and guilt, but these passive emotions make people disconnect and avoid the topic at an urgent time when we need collective action and conviction that we can do something together as a society.

So let’s take a personal step back and look at social science research and how people respond to climate science and put it to good use. Let’s think of what we can do differently to achieve Climate Positive, and turn fatigue into action and action into trust.

Per Espen Stoknes, a psychologist and economist recently appointed to the Norwegian Parliament, has studied the ways in which humans react to hearing about catastrophic climate change. Stoknes said, “The biggest obstacle to dealing with climate disruptions lies between your ears.” His book, What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming, is about what we can do differently—how to reframe the debate and turn apocalypse fatigue into personal and societal action.

There is less fear and guilt attached to reframing the climate issue, says Stoknes, and in the sense of “collective efficacy” or the idea that we can do something together as a society.

Reframe climate change as a health issue concerning people we care about – our families, our children, our friends. We want clean air and not respiratory diseases.

Reframe climate change as a safety issue and an insurance issue. Both need a risk management approach which speaks to business and financial people on the need to be prepared and ready in case something goes wrong.

Stokes identified many barriers.

Distancing is a barrier since it’s far out into the future in 2050 or beyond, somebody else is responsible and its happening elsewhere.

Dissonance is a barrier that creates an inner conflict between what we do and what we know.
Our lifestyle is built around fossil energy, then climate researchers come along and say, well, actually we shouldn’t do all these things because it destroys the atmosphere, and we’re complicit in destroying the planet.

Denial is a barrier, which is not surprising since we are prone to denial when it’s hard to change our lifestyle and the science evokes fear or guilt in us.

Identity is a barrier where climate science has been linked closely with partisan politics and people will protect their identity against threatening facts.

“Social networks are powerful and in reality, most people are social before they’re rational,” Stoknes said. “The impact is higher if people perceive a climate attitude is coming from somebody who’s like them or part of their social group than if it’s coming from outside. If we can change the messenger—away from a climate scientist or a coastal liberal or whatever—to somebody who’s more similar to them, that’d be a great approach to engaging people.”

We need to change the way we talk about climate change and achieve Climate Positive on time. It must be NOW!

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