narrative that is designed to encourage action to combat climate change must
acknowledge the abstract nature of global warming. First and foremost we need to
address the fact that people are not rational actors. Perhaps the most cogent
approach to managing the Herculean task of communicating with an inherently
irrational public is to focus on a narrative that deals with fostering the right
mental attitude. A new narrative designed to change peoples’ mindset must deal
with the following five psychological realities.
Crafting a new narrative that encourages action on climate change is a moral
issue. The central issue concerns finding ways of encouraging people to assume
responsibility. We cannot continue to hide under the relativistic argument that
causes people to be reluctant to act simply because others may not. A new
narrative must inoculate us against the tendency to defer our responsibility to
someone else. To bring about change we need to address peoples’ values and this
is premised upon our morals and our values.
A study called The Psychology of Climate Change
Communication, published by the Center for Research on Environmental
Decisions at Columbia University finds that people differ in their willingness
to accept technological and environmental risks due in part to their values.
The fact that there is a significant number of people who do not want to do
anything about climate change should be understood as a moral failing. Those who
do not believe they can do anything about it are suffering from a value-based
crisis. Therefore, a new narrative must tie into a value system that has the
audacity to hope for a better world.
If we can succeed in changing people’s values, this can go a long way towards
mobilizing people to act on climate change. An article by John Havens titled,
Quantifying Happiness: Leveraging
Values to Increase Wellbeing at Work, suggests that values are the key
to a happier and more productive work. Work that reflects our values is work
that will be perceived as more fulfilling. While it may appear that material
gains are the ultimate reward, Havens suggests that creativity and autonomy are
more important than money. These attributes can be inculcated into the work of
Happiness can encourage people to engage in the work that needs to be done.
We need to find ways to counteract the fact that people commonly expect
gratification without wanting to work for it. The right narrative can use
happiness as a powerful inducement to act.
People want to feel good, and this often entails a sense of meaning and
purpose. The question then arises, how do we get there? To have a sense of
meaning and purpose people need to feel connected. It is a major failing of
contemporary culture that people feel that they are cut off from each other and
from the natural world.
The state of interconnectedness is a reflection of the
physical world in which we live. As John Muir said, “when we try to pick out
anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
We need to appreciate the ramifications of our connectedness to nature. We
are part of nature and a new narrative must heal the rift that divides us from
this realization. Living with an awareness of the interconnectedness of life is
often experienced as a sense of sacredness. This in turn translates into a
propensity to take care of each other and the Earth.
The language we use colors the message we are trying to communicate. A new
climate narrative must use accessible language that resonates with people. If we
want to reach a large number of people we have to use language that is not the
exclusive domain of specialized nomenclature.
We need to use language that both engages and enthralls. The litany of
seemingly impenetrable abbreviations and acronyms make the language associated
with climate change seem like a foreign tongue. This goes over peoples’ heads
and ultimately causes them to tune-out.
To induce change on a global scale we will need to simplify the language and
make it universally accessible. Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man
in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his
own language, it goes to his heart.” By using the right language we can overcome
disinterest and inspire people to act.
Tackling climate change will not be easy so it is important that a new
narrative address the inevitable pitfalls we will experience along the way. We
need to embolden our capacity to be tenacious in the face of such difficulties.
As Paul Stoltz, PhD, explained in his book Adversity Quotient, success
can be predicted by how a person responds to adversity. Consequently, we must
build a narrative that bolsters our capacity to deal with the long and difficult
road ahead. This includes the kind of flexibility that enables us to learn from
our experience and employ different strategies to find creative solutions.
© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
The Pearl in the Oyster – Leveraging the Climate Crisis for Human and Planetary Health
Why We Need a New Climate Change Narrative
Overcoming Obstacles in the Creation of a New Climate Narratives
Crafting a Positive Environmental Narrative
Pessimism is Impeding Environmental Advocacy
A New Environmental Movement Breeds Hope for the Future
Environmental Success Stories: Mercury, SLCPs and Many More
Guide – Solutions to Sustainable Living: A New Narrative
The Power of Story Telling for Sustainable Businesses
The Power of Storytelling: Lessons in Consumer Engagement
Video – Narratives on Carbon Pollution: Are Individuals to Blame for Carbon Pollution?
Video – Indigenous Vs. Western: Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability
Making Environmentalism Everyone’s Concern
Why We Need to Reach American Climate Change Deniers
How to Get Through to Climate Deniers
How Morality Can Win the War on Climate Change
A Thanksgiving Infused with Environmental Gratitude
The Ecological Message in the Symbolism of Easter
The Religious Psychology of Green