You have to feel it!
Fascinating insight into our complex relationship with complex ideas!
There’s a powerful saying in the world of writing: If you can’t feel it you can’t write it!
But our feelings are so, so much a part of what it is to be human. That’s why I spent some time exploring how our resistance to change is so wrapped up in the emotions that change brings about in an article back on the 2nd August: Changing the person: Me.
So a post on the grist online magazine not so long ago really caught my eye. It was called Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could, and was written by David Roberts. I would dearly love to have sought David’s permission to republish it in full; it’s so relevant to understanding how we humans have to approach turning back from our present course of making the Earth’s biosphere uninhabitable for we humans.
But in a couple of days time, I have a Post coming out that is republished with David’s written permission called Cutting CO2 emissions – who leads the world! It felt greedy to ask David for another full republication. So I’m going to dip into this one, hopefully to the point where you will go across to grist and read it for yourself.
David opens up as follows:
Perhaps the single biggest barrier to action on climate change is the fact that it doesn’t hit us in the gut. We can identify it as a great moral wrong, through a chain of evidence and reasoning, but we do not instinctively feel it as one. It does not trigger our primal moral intuitions or generate spontaneous outrage, anger, and passion. It’s got no emotional heat. (Ironic!)
David’s article then goes on to refer to a recent paper published on the Nature.com website called Climate change and moral judgement by Ezra M. Markowitz & Azim F. Shariff. The abstract sets out that:
Converging evidence from the behavioural and brain sciences suggests that the human moral judgement system is not well equipped to identify climate change — a complex, large-scale and unintentionally caused phenomenon — as an important moral imperative. As climate change fails to generate strong moral intuitions, it does not motivate an urgent need for action in the way that other moral imperatives do. We review six reasons why climate change poses significant challenges to our moral judgement system and describe six strategies that communicators might use to confront these challenges. Enhancing moral intuitions about climate change may motivate greater support for ameliorative actions and policies.
M’mmm – not sure how that leaves me. (Which is my way of saying that I don’t really understand that!) Luckily David goes on to say that the authors “go on to identify six reasons why, “unlike financial fraud or terrorist attacks, climate change does not register, emotionally, as a wrong that demands to be righted.” and refers to an interesting table in the research paper.
Now go to the article on grist to better understand how those challenges are explained.
Then later on in the research paper, there is a second table, as below:
Again, these strategies are expanded upon in David’s article. What I will do is to copy his final few paragraphs:
6. Highlight positive social norms: This is, to me, the Big Kahuna. As I was reading about all the psychological barriers to climate action, I kept thinking, “one thing can overcome all these: peer pressure!” If people see others that they view as peers or leaders doing something, they will tend to do it too, and retrofit reasons for it after the fact. This is the essence of humans as social creatures.
The recommendation is twofold, though: not just to “highlight pro-environmental, prosocial injunctive norms such as prohibitions against being wasteful,” but also to “be careful not to inadvertently highlight negative, but existent, descriptive norms, which can actually encourage individuals to follow suit in the wrong direction.”
In other words, you want to emphasize that climate hawkery is good, socially desirable, admirable, and that all the cool kids are doing it. You don’t want to give people the impression that “everyone’s doing it” if it is bad. Even if you state clearly that it’s bad, the fact that others are doing it is, in and of itself, a powerful incentive to do it too. It’s the herd instinct. This is good reason not to whine on and on about how everyone drives too much or everyone wastes electricity. The subtext is, “it’s the social norm.”
Aaaanyway, this is a lot of food for thought. But it’s the kind of stuff — not about science but about people — that far too many climate hawks ignore or disregard. Climate change is not only the economic and ecological crisis of our time, it’s also a moral crisis. What we are doing to our descendants is a moral crime. Finding ways to help people get that, feel it in their guts the way they would if someone threatened their own families, is a precondition for serious, sustained action.
Let me repeat David’s closing words, “Climate change is not only the economic and ecological crisis of our time, it’s also a moral crisis. What we are doing to our descendants is a moral crime.“
OK, so how strongly do you feel that? Great, so you do feel it – even feel it deep inside you.
Now that you do, let’s all get stuck into making a difference. It is all about doing. As someone of huge stature, and a wonderful person of action no less, said;
I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
We must do! Start your own ‘doing’, don’t wait upon others, actively look for ideas (there are a few here) and together we can make a positive difference.
Well done, David – great article.