Climate Change Denial

July 24, 2009

WHY WE STILL DON’T BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE

George Marshall @ 2:00 pm

george-marshall-012At a recent dinner at Oxford University a senior researcher in atmospheric physics was telling me about his coming holiday in Thailand. I asked him whether he was concerned that this would make a contribution to climate change (we had, after all, just sat through a two hour presentation on the topic). “Of course,” he said blithely, “and I’m sure the government will make long haul flights illegal at some point”.

To be honest the conversation had not just idly strayed into the topic of holidays: I had deliberately steered it in this direction as part of an informal research project- one you are welcome to join. Previous experimental subjects include a senior adviser to Nicholas Stern who flies regularly to South Africa (“my offsets help set a price in the carbon market”), a member of the British Antarctic Survey who takes several long haul skiing trips a year (“my job is stressful”), a national media environment correspondent who took his family to Sri Lanka (“I can’t see much hope”) and a Greenpeace climate campaigner back from scuba diving in the Pacific (“it was a GREAT trip!”).

Intriguing as their dissonance may be, what is especially revealing is that every one of these people has a career that is predicated on the assumption that information is sufficient to generate change- an assumption that a moment’s introspection would show them was deeply flawed.

It is now 44 years since President Lyndon Johnson’s scientific advisory council warned that our greenhouse gas emissions could generate ‘marked changes in climate’. That’s 44 years of  research (now costing, by one estimate (1), three billion dollars per year ), symposia, conferences, articles, documentaries, and now 80 million references on the internet. Despite all this information, polls over the past five years have shown that 40% of people in Britain  resolutely refuse to accept that our emissions are changing the climate. In the US it is over 50% .

I do not accept that this continuing rejection of the science is a reflection of media distortion or scientific illiteracy. Rather I see this as proof of our failure to construct a shared socially held belief in climate change.

I find that climate scientists strongly dislike the word ‘belief”. Writing in The Guardian Vicky Pope, head of the UK Hadley Centre wrote testily “we are increasingly asked whether we “believe in climate change”. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief. Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence”  (4).

I could not disagree more. People’s attitudes towards climate change, even Dr Pope’s, are belief systems constructed through social interactions within peer groups. People then select the storylines that accord best with their personal worldview.

In Dr Pope’s case (and my own) this is a worldview that respects scientists and the evidence. But just listen to what other people say. Most of them regard climate change as an unsettled technical issue that is still being hotly debated by eggheads. Many reject personal responsibility by shifting blame elsewhere – to the rich, the poor, the Americans or the Chinese- or suspect that it is a Trojan Horse built by hair shirt environmentalists who want to steal their luxuries.

And the climate specialists in my private experiment, immersed as they are in the scientific evidence, have nonetheless developed ingenious storylines to justify their long haul holidays. ‘I work hard on this issue’, they argue, ‘so I need a ‘proper’ break to help me keep going’. Thus their climate change work is not a personal challenge, it is a proof of their virtue and a form of moral offset:

So, with time running out, please humour me and imagine that we focus our efforts on generating a socially held belief. What would change in the way we present climate science?

Well, for one thing we would become far more concerned about the communicators and their perceived trustworthiness. Trustworthiness is an elusive and complex bundle of qualities: authority and expertise are among them. But so too are less tangible qualities: honesty, confidence, charm, humour, outspokenness. The tiny network of maverick self-promoting skeptics play this game well– which is one of the reasons why they exercise such disproportionate influence over public opinion.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has done a particularly poor job of promoting itself as an authoritative and trustworthy institution. It should be telling the story of how it achieves consensus on an unprecedented scale, and enabling its most presentable participants to speak directly to the world.. At present, under sustained skeptic attack, it can’t even provide a list of the people involved in the process. It has no human face at all – the only images on its website are the covers of reports or the beach resort where it will hold its next meeting.

The single greatest quality of the people we trust and believe is that they appear to be like us and understand our needs and values. We badly need to widen the range of voices speaking on climate change and, inevitably, this means that climate experts relinquish some of their dominance and become more concerned with enabling others to speak.

Finally- to really push my luck- a belief driven approach would recognise the crucial need for imagination to make this issue real and current.- in polls scarcely 10% of people regard it as a major problem facing Britain today . These risks will never feel imminent, nor the alternatives feel possible, unless we can project ourselves into the future. And that requires a major effort of personal and collective imagination,

Again I am sure this is uncomfortable for many scientists, like Professor Mike Hulme of the Tyndall Centre who regularly warns against apocalyptic language that “actively ignores the careful hedging which surrounds science’s predictions”(6) . He is quite right that the language of fear can be counterproductive- it must be balanced with a positive vision.

However it is also clear that the moderated cautious language of professional science is inadequate to motivate, empower and inspire concerted change, even in the lives of the climate professionals themselves. Scientists must recognise the need for a far wider range of voices and approaches and that will means a greater respect and productive partnership with the creative arts. And maybe we are now at the stage when scientists can throw down the challenge:” we’ve done the work, we believe the results, now when the hell will you wake up?”

This is a slightly longer version and unedited of an opinion piece written for the 23rd July issue of New Scientist. Link..
For the proof of  the pudding read the bizarre and overwhelmingly sceptic comments that follow it on the New Scientist website.

NOTES

1.  The growth of climate change science: A scientometric study. G STANHILL Climatic change 48:2-32-3, 515-524, Springer, 2001
2. Environmental Choices study 2008 Haddock Research and Branding, Inc. 2008
3. Survey of 1,000 Likely Voters January 15-16, 2009, Rasmussen Polls link…
4.  Scientists must rein in misleading climate change claims, Comment is Free, www.guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 11 February 2009
5. The Environment- How important is it really to the public? Ipsos MoriNov 2008 link..
6. Mike Hulme, Chaotic world of climate truth, BBC News viewpoint link..

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58 Responses to “WHY WE STILL DON’T BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE”

  1. Liz Reason says:

    Well done George. I ask my friends who fly – in a genuine spirit of inquiry – as to how they can do that when they have children, and some of them grandchildren. They may not feel accountable to third world countries, but to their own flesh and blood? I’ve never had a satisfactory answer, and these are people that believe. They all have reasons – time, cost – and want government to take action. My other question is “Do you know how many tonnes of CO2 that will generate?”

    I absolutely take your point about who the communicators are and how they communicate. We haven’t started to scratch the surface yet.

  2. mike roselle says:

    Well put, George,

    I’ve been struggling with this question since I invited you to speak in Alberta over two years ago and you refused to on the grounds of avoiding air travel. (I haven’t been on an airplane since). I think for most of us the thought is, as one of your scientists implied, “I’ll quit flying when they make it illegal.” which also seems to imply both that they believe that they deserve it and that it should be illegal. So the real problem is privilege; people fly because they think they can afford to, and people with money have privileges that others don’t.

    Climate campaigners are now amongst the best paid individuals in the environmental movement and their disposable income seems to be burning a hole in their pockets. But if they cannot demonstrate some restraint, how can we expect others to embrace the sacrifices that we are asking them to? I noticed that you didn’t use the word hypocrisy, but I couldn’t help thinking that this was the case.

    If we want people to believe in climate change, shouldn’t we be living this belief instead of just giving advice to the masses? Perhaps, but what it points to is that no progress can be made without the rule of law. As we say in the USA, “You can have my carbon footprint when you peel my cold dead fingers off of it.” This seems to be true for our climate campaigners as well.

    I have come to believe that non violent civil disobedience is the only way we can demonstrate to others that not only is climate change serious, but our response to it is just as serious.

  3. George, I have now met my own personal Waterloo. My unblemished career of flightlessness (1995-2009) is due to be forever tarnished in just a few months.

    As Picture Editor of Majority World CIC, the Fair Trade photography agency, I was recently asked to fly to Dhaka sometime soon to conduct a series of seminars to educate local staff on picture editing for the western market. The whole raison d’etre of Majority World is to empower local (and hugely able) photographers in the Global South -and an important environmental benefit is the reduction of myriad carbon-emitting flights by Western photographers to all points on the globe. My initial reaction was to refuse to go. But I have now agreed. Was I wrong?

  4. Andrew says:

    Had a talk with Cindy about this post, and she encouraged me to post a comment.

    I do not support the proposition, “To solve climate change, we should never fly anywhere on holiday”.

    Should most of us reduce our air travel? Of course. In particular, we should avoid flying when the train is an option.

    But perpetuating this idea that we should not see the world, is counter productive. It’s like telling people they shouldn’t eat ice cream. It’s like saying they shouldn’t watch TV for fun. In fact, it’s worse than that, because travel broadens the mind – helps people understand and appreciate the world we’re trying to save.

    You’re also perpetuating the fallacy that if you want to do something about climate change then you should first do everything you can in your personal life – give up travel, eat only locally grown vegetarian food, put solar panels on your roof, etc etc.

    Sure, you can get a small tribe to follow you down that road, and my respect for them. For me, I’ll stick to doing my bit, and enjoying my life.

    • Dear Andrew- the point of highlighting the disconnections was to challenge the assumption (held by everyone I mentioned) that information generates change when clearly change requires a more complex set of conditions. It was not to attack people’s personal travel decisions- for myself, even though I fly very little now, I do not rule it out and I have flown a lot in the past- especially when working for international green groups!

      However, I do not agree that it is a fallacy that one should manage one’s personal emissions as part of action on climate change (although I absolutely agree that it should not be the only action). In ethical terms it is not acceptable to actively and knowingly contribute to a problem one is trying to prevent, even when one’s personal contribution to that problem is low in the scheme of things. Your analogy with telling people not to eat ice cream is interesting because it reveals a desire to define flying as a treat and personal pleasure which must be defended. And the comparison is, of course, very week. However I must say that if my life was dedicated to campaigning against refrigeration, dairy products, or sugary deserts for children, and I was regularly working to get such products withdrawn or telling other people about their dangers, I would consider it utterly unnaceptable to defend my personal consumption of ice cream.

      Anyway, living a high carbon lifestyle does reduce our ability to produce wider change in other areas. If we can speak from the heart about the challenges of low carbon living we can engage with the issue with conviction and authority. If we do not requires us to compartmentalise our behaviour and our work, and at worse can severely damage our credibility. Al Gore’s failure to reduce his own emissions was an utter bloody PR disaster and makes it hard for me to respect his judgement as a politician – clearly he felt that he was doing such great work (he is) that his own contribution was irrelevant- and as the most superficial reading of current politics shows, politicians who ignore the connection between their public position and private behaviour come to a sticky end!

  5. Marko says:

    Brilliant post and great blog! thanks!

  6. Graham Game says:

    Spot on George. We will be discussing these very issues at the Landscapes of the Mind Conference at the Eden Project 25-27 Sept.

  7. Stuart says:

    Unfortunately to solve climate change it is necessary that we must see less of the world. When a sustainable level of CO2 emissions is less than 1.5t a year and a long haul flight is 3t, then it’s simply determined by maths. Of course, there are other ways of getting there and in time there will be further ways, but for right now, that is the situation.

    It’s not about doing ‘everything’ in your personal life, but it’s a psychological issue that you need to start doing ‘some’ things in order to re-enforce other actions. If you’re looking at the major points, and if you’re going to do just one thing, for most people there’s nothing bigger than not making a long haul flight.

    The final line though, is that for a government to be able to apply something to a majority of people, it has to be socially acceptable, which means a sizeable minority needs to by choice.

  8. cindy says:

    [can i just say that while i encouraged andrew to post a response, it was due to him being incensed, rather than me agreeing with him].

    phew. glad i cleared that up.

  9. Ella Lightfoot says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head again, George. I worry that many of us shy away from the importance of ‘belief’, perhaps because of its close connection to religion?

    You’ll have heard no doubt that foreign holidays were the subject of Radio 4s moral maze this week. It was fascinating how the participants danced around the subject of climate change, without dealing with it head on. The question “if we REALLY BELIEVE in climate change, how should we change our flying habits?” was never asked. Instead we had a discusssion that mostly seemed to be trying to justify long haul holidays: we ‘need’ them, they boost local economies etc, etc….

    I think its also important not to forget how hard giving up something like flying is. Few of us can make a decision like that over night. I know because I was one of the world’s worst ever fliers, off here there and everywhere at every available chance. I haven’t flown for nearly two years now, but I still have not been able to bring myself to say I’ll never fly again.

    How can we make not flying cool and more desirable? Pehaps a free festival for all the people who haven’t flow for a year?
    Ella

  10. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the reply.

    A point of clarification – I didn’t consult Cindy before commenting. To be clear, she is not responsible for my actions or comments. :)

    More to the point…

    I think the ice cream analogy is a good one. Ice cream is very energy intensive (all that refrigeration).

    Do you eat ice cream?

    I don’t blame you if you do. You’re probably a much more ethical person than I am – so don’t take that as a personal thing. I went by train for my last holiday, and I’ll probably go by train for my next one – so I didn’t take your post personally either.

    And I agree that providing information isn’t enough to compel people to action. I also agree that the solution is to engage a wider spread of people.

    My point is about extremism, and how it is a barrier to getting more people involved.

    The message I took away from the first paragraphs of this post is that people should not fly anywhere for holiday.

    Same could be said for eating ice cream. The difference is only in the amount of damage done. So no ice cream. Same for going to the movies, or eating red meat.

    Well, what a sorry bunch of bastards are we then?

    Not people I’d want to hang around with, much less follow.

    • Andrew – my last comment and then I’ll shut up. Ice cream is NOTHING like flying. Ice cream is a slightly energy intensive treat. Flying is hugely polluting and the largest growing source of emissions. If I fly return to Australia once I use up 8 years of a sustainable per person emissions. This is the reality. I am not a killjoy- flying can be great and amazing, and fun and life changing. But the carbon figures do not lie, and long haul flights are the single most damaging thing we can do. Conflating something highly damaging with something with negligible impact is, I fear, a typical avoidance strategy.

  11. emissionary009 says:

    Lots of nails hit, here; many on head. As a punter at a workshop after the recent Transition Towns National Conference I found myself engaging between sessions with the facilitator who openly admitted to taking a flight or three ‘because the situation demanded it.’

    As a paid up member of the no-fly zone – at considerable cost to harmony in a family split by thousands of love miles – I quizzed him: was this work or fun? Well, he said, there was work involved and there was even a land-based option but the time this wd have entailed wd have eliminated the fun element. Though I was over-stressed from working I needed this job as much as the fun and so I took the flight and felt fine about it.

    It was what he said next that intrigued me: we are after all IN TRANSITION. To feel obligated to cut out all flying now and to be recommending this to others is to act post-Transition (to a low-carbon life). While this is our objective, it’s not where we’re at now. Indeed, he said, to act as though we are already there is to create a cult, one that excludes the majority, one that few will join.

    For this Transition process to flow, what we need instead, he said, is personal awareness. If we make our decisions in full awareness, then we may find we avoid flying in all but exceptional situations. It’s an intermediate step we all need to make. If we all did that, the rise of the aviation emissions curve would slow and then turn downward because on this course we would bring others with us. Meanwhile the no-fly cult could in effect be promoting denial.

    I hope I’m not misrepresenting this facilitator (or TRansition) here. He certainly reopened for me the question of how most effectively to get global air miles down soonest.

  12. David Rees says:

    Blimey! You know what I’m thinking before I do. I’m very glad and thankful that that someone has the perception to unravel and explain our weasely actions. But what are you going to do about it?
    Nice hat by the way
    David

  13. Hugh Curran says:

    The old adage is that we should “lead by example” so I agree with George Marshall that we should all reduce air travel to a minimum. I happened to receive a “fact sheet” from our electricity supply today that noted that there are 768 lbCO2/Megawatt hour (MWH) and that in our 1200 sq ft house we use about 300 lbCO2/yr of electricity but in addition our wood heat uses 16,000lbCO2 & our automobile 3000lbCO2. So roughly speaking our family of two uses up 20,000lbCO2 per year.

    How would this compare with air travel if we go on one or two flights per year at round trip distances of 1200 miles? On small planes with a capacity of 20-30 or so passengers (which I travel on) I estimated that the amount of CO2 burned per passenger mile is equivalent to an automobile getting about 25 mpg driving the same distance (ie 350 lbCO2). If two people are in the auto then it is a considerable saving but one person in an auto does not save any CO2, assuming they would have driven the same distance round-trip. Of course, long flights, such as to Australia, are a whole other matter but on flights within a country or continent comparisons in saving should be made based on mass transit. For instance, an efficient intercity bus with 50 or so passengers can get up to 7 mpg or 1lb of CO2 per mile so the real savings between flying and land transport is in the use of mass transit rather than autos.

  14. Scott B says:

    I know I would not be making any excuse for flying in spite of my knowledge of the effects on carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. I do use the “traffic jam rationale”: to wit, my car alone, driving and in good operating order, has never caused a traffic jam. Only in aggregate with other vehicles, can I create a slow-moving “jam”. Thus I would say about flying, “Unless that flight is canceled because I personally am not on that flight, then the flight proceeds, with all the carbon consequences, whether it flies with an empty seat or with me occupying that very seat. My personal decision to travel has no effect on aircraft contributions to global warming, taken as a singular case of “going, or not going”.

    Consider my blog if you want to understand the extreme backlash to solutions to global warming:
    http://www.maxattainablespeed.blogspot.com/

    Instead of taking the idea contained therein on an academic level, the vitriolic reactions are intense, personal, and always a complaint about what the responder will be losing, and not what could be gained.

  15. Annie says:

    So much of the response to this particular piece seems to be about flying, the morality of it, the carbon consequence of it. To me this shows how much there is a need to hash out personal issues surrounding decisions to fly or not fly among us. That’s why the Seize the Day song “Flying” is so good– it’s power is in recognizing all the ambiguity and the fact that a lot is lost in our moving away from assuming we can travel by air.
    However, this article is about something different, and there’s not much uptake on its real subject which is: 40 years of science, education and persuasion don’t seem to be reaching people effectively; how can we who know the emergency we are in communicate this urgency with the goal of actually creating real change?

  16. Interesting piece. The noted climate scientist James Hansen, for one, has been far from cautious in his language for many years. Recently he even put his body on the line for arrest. Bring Hansen together with people who look more ‘ordinary’, as Greenpeace did in the film about their Kingsnorth action, and you may be on to a winner.

    Without Hansen-type figures on board it may be harder to persuade more people — or so would seem to be the lesson from the Drax trial. You need both a scientific authority and ‘someone like me’/'someone I like’.

  17. Anna Haynes says:

    I’m with Andrew (“extremism…is a barrier to getting more people involved”) and emissionary009 (“the no-fly cult could in effect be promoting denial”) on this one –
    “We’re all on the same ship and what we do in our individual cabins is of almost no consequence in terms of the direction the ship is going.”
    (see Alex Steffen’s classic “Don’t Just Be the Change, Mass-Produce It”, at http://bit.ly/ckQBJ)

    The more we acquiesce to the view (and allow others to hold it, unchallenged) that personal voluntary action is the answer, the more we shoot ourselves and planet in the foot. There are 2 ways to avoid Gore-style PR disasters – 1, devote your time/resources to doing the voluntary thing, or 2, educate the populace on what the solution actually is – and encourage people to spend their time on _that_.
    Maybe we _have_ to do #1 for PR purposes; but let’s not empower the anti-future contingent by according their arguments legitimacy.

  18. Anna Haynes says:

    (…undue legitimacy, I mean.)

  19. Adrian Tait says:

    Good points, George and some thoughtful responses. I’m not surprised to see that old chestnut “the plane will take off with or without me” featuring large. Apart from the ethical point (doing what we think/know is right and necessary, come what may) there’s an underlying argument here about whether we’re all isolated decision-makers or part of a social and mental network with multiple feedbacks. We’re not in sealed cabins, we’re individually and collectively putting our weight to tilt the craft in one direction or the other.

  20. Roly says:

    I totally agree that the issue we face is how to ‘sell’ the concept of climate change (the science was effectively settled a decade ago despite the nonsense on blogs and comment boards).

    I think the issue is twofold:
    1. It’s a bit like getting people to do a will or buy life assurance….difficult to pitch without mentioning taboo subjects (like reducing populations).
    2. Climate change is too slow (on human timescales that is, clearly for the planet it’s an imminent train wreck).

    I decided long ago that in general you can;t frighten people into doing things since as you mentioned regarding flying, the human psyche is brilliant at creating delusions. So the only pitch I can see is to keep banging on about the positives. Given that in western anglo-saxon societies happiness is on the decline and stress on the way up I think it will work …eventually!

    Regarding flying, I don’t see that leading by example will work. I have a feeling ethical environmentalistally aware individuals are generally perceived as hair-shirted extremists (even terrorists these days) and the mass change will not happen. Personally I hate flying so reducing my flights to one long-haul to visit family in Asia was easy. Can I justify that flight? Maybe not, but I’ll still be going and salve my conscience by offsetting carbon.

  21. John Turnbull says:

    The last time I tried to make the points that I make below I got a response back from Ayatollah Marshall branding me a “DENIER” and not worth allowing onto the comments board. But being a humble fellow I have decided to try again.
    Compared with earlier generations we, in the West, live in a glorious age. Whether it is the status of women, the ability to travel, the level of education available to all, or just the ease of living, it is unparalleled in history. I am just recovering from some extended surgery to rid me of cancer. This was just not available a generation ago.
    In the midst of this we are plagued with doom sayers. We have had the Millennium Bug, CJD, BSE, the MRS vaccine and now Swine Flu. All of these were scheduled to end civilisation as we know it.
    Environmentalism properly reminds us that there is a price to pay if we over-exploit the planet’s resources. We have to take this seriously and look at the trade off between the benefits and damage caused. This is not easy and requires some very careful research and debate.
    Sadly, the debate gets skewed by environmentalists seeming to reject everything that the modern world seems to represent. They assure us that the end of the world is nigh. The “good life” is by definition immoral and only possible by exploitation and destruction. We have to go back to “Nature” and live a much more simple constrained existence if we are to survive.
    What will get the wider public to accept the need to address the very real dangers inherent in the IPCC climate modelling is a much more positive response. We need to hear how we can turn this scenario to our advantage and continue the progress in intellectual and material terms that we in the West have experienced since the Enlightenment. That is the challenge.

  22. Brad Pierce says:

    Liz Reason, I have don’t have any of my “own flesh and blood” children. Do you think that means I care less about this planet than those who are members of that club?

    And if you have children, may I inquire of you how you justify those carbon footprints?

    – Brad

  23. Phil Korbel says:

    Excellent blog – and debate too. So much so that I’m torn. On one hand – it’s not unreasinable to ask campaigners to walk the walk, both from an ethical point of view and in order to avoid PR SNAFU’s. On the other – how close is this to the sort of ‘hair shirt-ism’ that prevents our message on climate change going mainstream?

    Even the boy Miliband, so good in many areas, seems obliged to kow-tow to the ‘we can all fly forever’ brigade when making his recent policy announcements. Even though the numbers dont add up [it's the prosperous who fly most, not the down-trodden] – his rationale will be to avoid the hair shirt tag. I’m not saying that I agree with this but….

    So – the issue of ‘belief’. Again, it’s an issue used to beat us up by the right – that we’re messianic, quasi-religious etc – but unless this core issue can take on the memetic qualities of a belief system, how on earth can we really hit critical mass and break through to the mainstream?

    Perhaps a simple ‘we dont fly’ thing – one a one-to-one basis amongst neighbours, friends and peers is the best way?

    I just dont know…. but of all the areas of over-consumption, air travel is going to be one of the hardest to crack.

  24. Marc Hudson says:

    I’d recommend a read of a recent World Bank report called “Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change.”
    Norgaard, K.M. (2009). “Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper no. WPS 4940, May 2009.
    World Bank Policy Research Working Paper no. WPS 4940, May 2009. Here’s a tinyurl to it (a pdf)
    http://tinyurl.com/mp3vso
    I’m two thirds of the way through it (it’s 70 or so pages) and it is top-notch stuff about individual and social mechanisms of denial.
    But none of this really matters, of course, because we are toast. Most of us just don’t know it yet.

  25. Josie says:

    I disgree with you George, I’m with Mike Hulme. The version of climate change that most of the public have been presented with is that it is a possibility for the future of ‘apocalypse’ or ‘devastating catastrophe’ or ultimate loss of control in a ‘runaway’ of unconceptualisable darkness and terror. There is plenty of empirical psychological evidence that such things lead to nagging anxiety and helplessness, but not to action. For action people need concrete manageable things- not vague threats of ill defined monsters beyond comprehension.

    Neither is this picture supported by the science. Reading scientific papers gives you a completely different picture, one of increasing impacts and increasing risks as temperatures go higher, starting now, not in the future (actually starting some time ago). You would think if you just read the newspapers and material by most climate campaigners that the scientific literature is all about a ‘tipping point of no return’ or ‘runaway climate change’. Well, it isn’t. There are lots of positive feedbacks, and the risks of igniting more increase at higher temperatures, leading to increasing impacts. But the concept of ‘runaway climate change’ is not used in a single scientific paper to my knowledge and as William Connolley (ex-BAS) points out- it has no clear definition.

    I think this language is doing a lot of damage, and climate change campaigners should stop it. It is counterproductive. The real situation is that we are in control, and the more we act the more we can minimise the impacts and risks, and being in control is motivating- catastrophe and apocalpse and runaway are all ideas that are about being helpless and OUT of control, totally demotivating.

    • Oh don’t get me wrong- Josie. I am with Mike Hulme too about the ineffectiveness of apocalyptic scenarios in communication and I agree with you that some of runaway/Venus/gulf stream/methane explosion stuff is highly conjectural. Mind you, I think there is quite enough disaster associated with the well supported science around the direction we are heading like 4 degress, which is what Bob Watson is warning. And even then I still think that you cannot motivate people by just spelling out those impacts – which greens often think will move people into action. Personally I rarely talk about climate change impacts at all. So plenty of agreement.
      My view is that the way you do reach people is by exploring the emotional and social meaning of these impacts, the resonances with their identify and worldview, and, in general, by opening up discussion to how a low carbon world could ‘feel’. This is my point about science communication. Engineers would sell a car by going on about fuel injection, mpg, air resistance, and torque. This is how science communcates climate change, which is fine, but is not enough to move people. People choose a new car because of the way they think it will make them feel (free, wild, young, safe, successful) and/or because people they know have the same model. This is the reality of human behaviour and the key to moving people on climate change.

  26. Stuart, I agree with you in part – “Unfortunately to solve climate change it is necessary that we must see less of the world”. I realised that in choosing to travel less, a shift in focus helped me see more, not less. I haven’t flown on holiday for coming on for five years, and won’t be doing it again in the forseeable future. The consequences have been huge, taking the form of two cycling trips with my children, 1200 and 350 mile voyages of discovery that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Travelling at an average speed of 12mph is good for the soul and gave me much more, not less.

  27. Liz says:

    One common phrase that has such currency – “stop flying – who are we to tell people not to have holidays?” In just 15-20 years having a holiday has become synonymous with flying. But I’ve had lots of holidays in the last decade in several countries and I haven’t flown for any of them.

    I know of at least one company that is working hard to make train travel much more accessible – easier to plan and book – though it still can’t make it cheaper. But a gap year gives plenty of time to go exploring and see the world. My daughter has stretched the point somewhat. She will return in September after more than two years travelling and working, and she has been round the world, taking two short flights to go over some bits of water that proved too difficult to navigate on the surface. Banana boats, yachts, trains, buses, et. etc See http://www.loco2.co.uk where I think some of her blogs appear. And she’s not alone. Promoting a different kind of gap year would be a great start in changing the culture.

  28. Merrick says:

    Andrew (4),

    Flying is not like eating ice cream. I’ve yet to hear of the person who flies yet emits a sustainable level of carbon. So, everyone who does it is either saying ‘I should have someone else’s share’ or ‘I am happy to accelerate climate change’. Neither is a trifling matter, and neither should be indulged.

    “travel broadens the mind – helps people understand and appreciate the world we’re trying to save” is even more disingenuous. Only a tiny proportion of people are rich enough to fly today. Can you imagine the emissions released by getting enough people travelling enough to get a real global movement going? Fortuantely, in reality we can all understand a lot about the world and feel genuine compassion for those elsewhere without having to personally go there first.

    “You’re also perpetuating the fallacy that if you want to do something about climate change then you should first do everything you can in your personal life”. As opposed to what? Saying people should all do something that you are choosing not to?

    “I’ll stick to doing my bit, and enjoying my life”. Flying means that any good you do in your ‘bit’ is undone. If you fly, you emit too much carbon; you are saying that your luxury trumps other people’s right to life.

  29. Penny Walker says:

    Hi George

    Spot on blog – a refreshing read. I take your point that your blog is really about the fallacy that more / better / different information alone leads to behaviour change, and that changing behaviour requires more than simply raising the awareness of an individual.

    People may be interested in this write-up of a workshop session I ran a couple of years ago, with climate change champions, which explored the problem of incongruence between (in this case) ecological footprint size and championing action on climate change. http://www.penny-walker.co.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/being_the_change.pdf

    The purpose of the session was to compassionately examine people’s incongruence and the stories we tell ourselves and each other about it. We then reflected on what stories a really good climate change leader would tell about their (inevitable) incongruence.

    Cheers

    Penny

  30. josh says:

    George and others,

    Thank you for this interesting discussion. I do find a strand of it a bit troubling as at times it slips into a tendency to accuse others of bad faith, which I think that is morally problematic–glass houses, stones and all that. While I appreciate that the “climate denial” concept is an important part of a compassionate and psychologically savvy activism, I find that at times it accidentally gives way to a pursuit of superior virtue which can be rather condescending or unproductive. I wholeheartedly agree with what Penny so beautifully said in her reply about the compassionate recognition of our inevitable incongruence.

    The important question of how to bring knowledge and action together has made me wonder about primary and middle school education on climate change in the UK and Europe. In the US kids get lots of school lessons about recycling and it has certainly been effective on individual behavior. As far as I know a curriculum on climate change and related positive actions (including the all important not flying) is nowhere near being universal in US schools, and it should be. It would be great not just for the kids, but their parents. A grown-up who “ought to know better” but still flies a lot almost certainly won’t change their plans because another adult who “knows better” tries to prod their guilt; but i think they are more likely to make a different decision if their kids say things like: mommy, do you/we have to fly there? i know it is very bad for the world.

  31. Annie says:

    Well, we’re out of time now, emissions continue to rise, no one knows the hell of a storm we’re in for. I BELIEVE, based on all my reading and intellectual and experiential apprehension of natural processes, that the world as we humans know it is changing for the worse, with great dangers and challenges ahead of us.

    I choose to fly a little as I can because I can not personally abide consciously contributing to the severe jeopardy in which we are placing life on earth, and that includes my children. If this is moral superiority, well, it’s the morality I have chosen for myself, an expression of my beliefs, as a vegan would avoid meat, as a conscientious objector would go to prison before war. It’s not that I am without compassion for high-consuming people who see no way out of that consuming (I am one of them in so many ways), but I have more compassion for those who suffer and will suffer in increasing intensity and multitude from the consequences of what we are doing.

    Serious lifestyle reckoning with the gravity of Climate Breakdown is not the only answer, and probably not the most important campaign strategy, but it’s sure a strong focus-lens of personal truth and commitment. And it may be the beginning of true social change in the sense of personal expectations and entitlement.

  32. Dunc says:

    The thing I find most remarkable about the whole flying debate is how flying has, in the space of about 30 years, gone from being viewed as a luxury reserved for the rich (the “jet-set”) to being seen as a basic requirement for a decent life, on a par with access to clean water and basic health care.

    Giving up flying is not actually such a terrible loss. Foreign holidays are nice, but then so are ponies. I don’t feel terribly hard-done-by because I don’t own a pony.

  33. Noel Thompson says:

    To all:

    I did find this extremely interesting: how a discussion of “beliefs” and personal actions was really illustrated so well by flying–for me as well although not for the first time.

    However, it seems to me that there is absolutely no difference between flying and taking the train, driving, taking a ship and eating lots of beef on board, owning a very big house and staying at home for that matter—and this is important because what we forget sometimes is the objective: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, quickly; and to establish a world social order that will make the reduction permanent.

    These two things require BIG changes to how we use and produce energy, “things” and food: and they require big changes from population growth to population reduction. Neither are easy, but both are necessary: the first must be quick, while the second must start immediately but can not be quick.

    So in this context, come back to flying. Most emissions from flying come from long haul flights (60% of fuel from 13% of flights)and the energy efficiency of long haul flights is very dependent on the stage length–so much so that we could reduce, by ABOUT 50%, aircraft fuel use by limiting stage lengths to roughly 2500 km (1500 mile). This would require, between Australia and Europe as an example, about five stops, while now we have one. Most people hate stops: but with modern living there is no other practical way to travel this route than to fly, so they would still fly, and use half as much fuel, if that was all that was on offer (for those who are technical, this reduction is caused by the reduce average mass when you don’t fill the fuel tanks—but data is available). As a matter of fact, there ARE ways that we could carry this further, and reduce fuel use by ~75% very quickly–and then we could make the fuel from a renewable energy source, and hey presto, we have a winner that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is sustainable—well it would be sustainable but like EVERYTHING else it is only sustainable in a population decreasing world.
    Why? Well, tourism provides lots of jobs, and if economic growth is reversed to make life sustainable, jobs will be important. Second, travel for business or pleasure is almost the best way to make people feel part of the world, not just their part of it.
    How? Well, I think it has to be regulation. The people who fly business and first class illustrate the price elasticity of demand for air travel, and an emission trading scheme is not going to do it—unless we pick on peoples holidays as some sort of legitimate target.

    Finally, in terms of doing something quickly, this beats building train tracks and trains hands down—the embodied energy for air travel infrastructure is amazingly low, and we already have it. Of course the operational energy will still be higher than for fully loaded trains, but if we are looking at total energy use in the next ten years, this change to air travel is a winner, if combined with using turbo props for short hauls.

    And if you don’t like the idea of using renewable energy for flying? These sorts of “pre judging”=prejudice is probably one reason that nobody has put forward the above proposal seriously (as best I can determine). Now that is stubborn “beliefs”.

  34. Martin P says:

    George Marshall, please post something else so this wretched thread will end! I now have to say something. Gah. Stupid interweb-thingy.

    Noel Thompson (comment 35):
    “travel for business or pleasure is almost the best way to make people feel part of the world, not just their part of it.”

    oh for goodness sake. People are always claiming the moral virtue of air travel as self-evident. It comes up time and time again in this sort of dicsssion. “air travel made me an environmentalist” they sometimes say.

    But I don’t find it self-evident at all – my feelings are similar to Dunc (comment 36) – but then I don’t think we’re very good at knowing why we think as we do. Which is why I find grand assertions irritating.

    (hmmm. *that* was a grand assertion, wasn’t it? … ooops)

  35. Mark Meisner says:

    Thanks for this post. A number of people are working on the issue of how we communicate about the climate crisis and other environmental matters. One venue where those who are interested can join in these explicit discussions via the Environmental Communication Network (ECN) and the blog Indications: Environmental Communication & Culture.

  36. Noel Thompson says:

    To Martin P, and all

    I know I am not very good at explaining this, but my point is that IF people want to use renewable energy for long haul air travel, and IF we can reduce the energy requirement of air travel enough to make that feasible, then I think that is a choice that is as legitimate as any other, including ponies—what I would like to see is that the choice be consciously made and that it could be enforced (like any other reduction in greenhouse gases)

    On the other hand, I think Georges point is 100% right, namely, otherwise very intelligent and informed people, act totally contrary to their supposed knowledge over air travel—most of them justify their actions to themselves in ways that a “Man from Mars” would find rather hard to fathom.

    This behavior is not confined to flying— the man from mars would also wonder how we justified our use of “hybrid” vehicles when we haven’t found a way of making batteries that doesn’t use a great swag of energy: in this case the alternative is to build duplicate roads for lightweight vehicles (say under half a ton) which requires far less embedded energy, and the operational energy would also be reduced by even more than the current hybrids (100 mpg is easily possible), and the users of lightweight vehicles would stay out of hospital. Existing roads would be less congested—for buses as well as heavy cars.

    So I also take Georges second point—the way we present things makes the difference between acceptance and being ignored. My only way of presenting things is mathematics, and while it IS a language, few speak it. My grand assertions are not justified without the mathematics, and you are right to say so. However “I BELIEVE” that IF a politician banned air travel, and the 10% of the population who depend on tourism became unemployed, they would vote differently at the next election. I personally think we need to find quick ways to reduce greenhouse gases, that are acceptable to all but the lobbyists—and as George said in the first place, we need a shared socially held belief in climate change.

    Shared beliefs, in the language of business, lead to strategies, structures and systems. The “greed is good” bunch have them in spades, hence their success in influencing the public to support their own selfish interests. If I was trying to sell greenhouse gas reduction concepts to businesses, they would be falling over themselves to grab them if the price of energy was ten times what it currently is. At the current price, they are not interested—unless we regulate they never will be.

  37. Noel Thompson says:

    Sorry, that should have been 5% in tourism: I thought UK would be more, and should have looked for figures before submitting.

    Still, a SHARED social belief will not come if unemployment is caused for large numbers of people. New jobs, in food close to home and more labor intensive, in renewable energy, and in communication, information and computers, will come–old jobs will end, but this can not be socially disruptive if we are to mitigate greenhouse gases before the worst of the global warming is inevitable.

    In fact, we need above all to end economic growth dependent on energy without ending employment, anything less is not socially cohesive and not sustainable—if we are to get a response to climate change before catastrophes simply force us to ad hoc adaption.

    For those who lose jobs now it will be easy to keep denying the future—far better to create the new jobs first even if they are not as well paid. A pay cut can be accepted, but a total loss of job will not.

  38. jules says:

    George you are so right. I have so many ‘green’ friends who continue to fly. These are CSR consultants and SRI fund managers and the like. As well as senior think tank and NGO and Dfid and other civil service people who work on climate change etc. They fly for pleasure across the world and certainly fly more than necessary for work. It amazes me.

    The fact that my advertising company brother-in-law flies every weekend I am not so surprised at (though I frequently tell him he ought not to). But that these so called ‘greens’ do astounds me. Maybe we should ‘out’ them.

    When I am asked why I have not flown for work or pleasure for many years I say that knowing what I know I see flying as a humanitarian crime. I say this to anyone who asks. I don’t actually say that their flying is a humanitarian crime. But I do say that it is everyone’s responsibility to find out the truth as our media and political leaders will not tell it straight.

    I am regularly asked to do work with companies abroad and unless I can get a train I refuse the work. How come I am supposed to know anything more than a Chinese or American about how to solve Chinese or American problems? It seems many people here think that we are the font of all knowledge and so have to be flown around the world like missionaries sharing our wisdom. I know other people like me but very few. When I worked for WWF I am sure I flew too much but I had an international job. I refused many more things than I went to. Many NGO people are the opposite. They seek out interesting conferences they ‘have to go to’ which happen to be in lovely places.

    I blogged last week about the shocking stance of Millipede-junior http://www.citizenrenaissance.com/2009/07/22/de-clutter/ and a while back http://www.citizenrenaissance.com/2009/06/25/scientist-and-citizen/ When the man in Government responsible from saving us from CC still encourages flying its a pretty sorry state.

    I agree with what you are saying about changing beliefs, language and framing etc. But I am more and more scared that we are sleep-walking into climate chaos. In practical terms what would you suggest needs doing?

  39. Jo says:

    Hmmm… I’m from New Zealand a country that, economically, relies on tourism and who’s nearest neighbour is a three hour flight away. I can’t imagine not getting out there and seeing the world and it would be such a shame if the world never got to see us. Yes, I know not a ‘green’ attitude but I think ‘no flying’ is a concept that will struggle to achieve buy-in from this side of the world.

    What are the alternatives for us?

  40. Alice says:

    Hi George

    This has been such a good read. Thank you – very stimulating (in a good , non-childcare-related way). I had written lots of things, then I thought it was all better expressed by the following filmic fantasy..

    Brian (George): Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me (fly), you don’t need to follow anybody (fly anywhere)! You’ve got to think for yourselves (use an alternative less damaging mode of transport)! You’re all individuals (individually and collectively responsible for climate change)!

    The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We’re all individuals!

    Brian (George): You’re all different!

    The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we are all different!

    Man in Crowd: I’m not…

    The Crowd: Shhh!

    Failing intellectual debate and rational persuasion maybe some kind of ‘Be nice to me, I didn’t fly this year’ slogan on a t-shirt, with a polar bear motif, could work? Could be a polar bear on a cross, if that’s too cutesie.

    Even more seriously, I think t-shirt slogans are very effective ways to effect change. A t-shirt of a polar bear wearing an ‘Examine your conscience’ t-shirt?

    Alice

  41. Wendy says:

    So only one of you (Roly) actually believes that the carbon offset taxes we “believers” pay for our flights is doing any good in the world by paying for trees to be planted etc?
    So if a retired couple flies to a warm place for the cold months and therefore use no fuel for heating their home which also has no air conditioning, you would still judge them?
    So if a person has installed solar panels, rides a bicycle to work, doesn’t drink bottled water, buys op shop clothes, grows his own vegetables and fruit but still travels by plane out of his island home to see America or Europe, paying the set Carbon Offset Tax, you would still judge him to be insincere about Climate Change?
    Wouldn’t it be better to find fuels that don’t pollute?
    After all, the world’s oil is going to run out before the end of the century anyway.
    Shouldn’t we all stop picking and choosing which activities to condemn and get on with inventing ways for us and our grandchildren to continue to do the things we enjoy without wrecking the planet?

  42. Noel Thompson says:

    Psychology-Neuroscience-Advertising and Personal Decision Making: an Introduction

    George, you must be much more expert than I am on this topic, but it seems to me that the matter of personal decision making is at the heart of what you are saying here.

    So, my little knowledge says:

    We receive a stimulus (see something, hear something, feel,smell or taste something) and that sets our deductive logic brain spinning working out alternative actions.

    Next, we get an emotional reaction to the alternatives, and the emotion leads us to decide what to do.

    Fight or flight? etc, etc, etc

    Without the emotion, NO DECISION CAN BE MADE, but the emotion comes from combining the alternatives with our deeply held beliefs: and the deeply held beliefs come from our conditioning, that is all our experiences but especially our childhood.

    If you want to change the decision, you do have to change the emotions generated: and to do that, you have to change the beliefs: but most people have no idea how to change their thinking. For those who want something that works,and can be done self help, Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a good starting point.

    All of us are kidding ourselves if we think we are immune from all this. However, the denier contributions to your “New Scientist” article really make horrible reading, reflecting as they do the size of the problem faced.Mind you some of the pro comments are pretty self righteous also, including I guess mine here (I really am pro, but I really do want to make a difference to greenhouse gas emissions quickly, and I know how hard it is to get people to change their thinking).

    Changing peoples thinking about the whole of the way they live their life is a big ask, especially if it threatens their employment. On the other hand, if you ask them to sacrifice a little of their time for the good of humanity, you may tap in to another set of beliefs and get a positive response: and that is why I advocate long hauls be replaced by multiple legs of ~1750 miles.Believe me, that will be hard enough to sell, but IT COULD BE SOLD. Stopping flying overnight is not sell-able even if you had the advertising budget of Virgin and Ryanair combined.

    But no matter what, unless people change their beliefs they will not change their decisions, for they will not change their emotions that allow them to decide anything. And that is science.

  43. Michael Soth says:

    Dear George, thanks for having put the psychological issues involved in us tackling or denying climate change so high on the agenda. There really is a lot further and deeper to go with this. Some of us have been here before (e.g. late 80′s / early 90′s with Joanna Macy’s Despair and Empowerment work): that was all based on the recognition that more terrifying information about our abuse of the planet can lead to overwhelm and more denial rather than to action, and that information itself is just data which – as you point out – will be interpreted and re-arranged according to pre-existing and largely unconscious patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving.
    So I agree that psychology needs more attention in all this. But in my opinion not just ANY kind of psychology. As a therapist and as a supervisor and trainer of therapists for many years, I have plenty of evidence that the bulk of psychological theory and practice is rooted in the same zeitgeist that nonchalantly originated and drove ecological obliviousness. And as Einstein observed: no problem can be dealt with by the same kind of consciousness that created it. So we need a NEW kind of psychology, I propose. What kind? I hear you ask. If I could convey it in a blog comment, we wouldn’t have the problem.
    It’s partly out of wanting to bring climate change initiatives and psychology together more that I am organising a special sustainability day in Oxford on Oct. 17th 2009, one in which ‘sustainable consciousness’ is emphasised, with contributors like Nick Totton and Andrew Samuels (i.e highly respected psychology and ecopsychology practitioners and writers). Have a look at thrivingsustainably.org.uk and please link in, and spread the word. I look forward to hearing from you.

  44. Rooster says:

    How can we deal with deniers like this?

    “Stabilising climate to avoid dangerous climate change — a summary of relevant research at the Hadley Centre January 2005

    What constitutes ‘dangerous’ climate change, in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, remains open to debate.

    Once we decide what degree of (for example) temperature rise the world can tolerate, we then have to estimate what greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere should be limited to, and how quickly they should be allowed to change.

    These are very uncertain because we do not know exactly how the climate system responds to greenhouse gases.

    The next stage is to calculate what emissions of greenhouse gases would be allowable, in order to keep below the limit of greenhouse gas concentrations.

    This is even more uncertain, thanks to our imperfect understanding of the carbon cycle (and chemical cycles) and how this feeds back into the climate system.”

    This is quite astounding when the science is so certain and has been so since 1988 and earlier.

    More disturbing comments from the Tyndall Centre:

    “The Social Simulation of the Public Perception of Weather Events and their Effect upon the Development of Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change” Tyndall Centre working document 58, September 2004.

    “Global warming (or climate change) is, without elaboration, a much debated and contested issue. Not only is it contested among scientists, but also among all those with vested interests.

    We suggest that, in the realm of the public, forces act to maintain or denounce a perceived reality which has already been constructed. That is, an issue introduced by science (or media for that matter) needs continual expression of confirmation if it is to be maintained as an issue.

    In this paper, we explore under what conditions belief in global warming or climate change, as identified and defined by experience, science and the media, can be maintained in the public’s perception.

    As the science itself is contested, needless to say, so are the potential policy changes. So how then do people make sense or construct a reality of something that they can never experience in its totality (climate) and a reality that has not yet manifest (i.e. climate change)?

    To endorse policy change people must ‘believe’ that global warming will become a reality some time in the future.

    Only the experience of positive temperature anomalies will be registered as indication of change if the issue is framed as global warming.

    Both positive and negative temperature anomalies will be registered in experience as indication of change if the issue is framed as climate change.

    We propose that in those countries where climate change has become the predominant popular term for the phenomenon, unseasonably cold temperatures, for example, are also interpreted to reflect climate change/global warming.”

    How can we get the message across when there are these doubters in the Climate Science establishment?

    We already know that the government aren’t really onside, but this makes things really difficult for us:

    The Institute for Public Policy Research, Labour’s favourite think tank, for whom David Miliband once worked, had this advice for public agencies interfacing with the public.

    “Treating climate change as beyond argument”: Warm Words, IPPR August 2006.
    ..it is our recommendation that, at least for popular communications, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won.

    This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective.

    The ‘facts’ need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken.

    The certainty of the Government’s new climate-change slogan – ‘Together this generation will tackle climate change’ (Defra 2006) – gives an example of this approach. It constructs, rather than claims, its own factuality.”

    These sort of comments are problematic when trying to push the certainty of the science on global warming.

  45. Martin P says:

    A final, supplementary comment about flying. I realise it is slightly off-topic to say so, and that many of the people contributing to this thread will be already aware of this line of thought, but it can be convincingly argued that there are serious problems with the proposed growth of flying *quite apart from* ghg emmissions (or even noise).

    http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2006/hypermobilityforRSA.pdf presents a somewhat disturbing argument which suggests that there is a less obvious but equally damaging problem with ‘hypermobility’.

  46. Hari Batti says:

    I’m glad I came upon this. I think a lot of people are afraid to say anything about air travel, etc., because no one wants to hear it. But, unfortunately, it needs to be said.

    I’m based in Delhi. Just opened a place with something like your politics. Would love to have you stop by sometime. http://www.greenlightdhaba.org
    warmly,
    Hari

  47. newbaloney says:

    two bits:
    We are the generation that wipes out wild tigers, orang utans… etc etc. I do not consent to this. I am devastated by this. I rage at this. My infinitesimally small stand is that I do not touch planes. (Maybe if I had a wrench in my hand). Whether anyone else stands there too is their business.

    ‘Flying’ is just the bloody example: what about the main issue – information and science demonstrably have not brought about the necessary changes in behaviour. We need to get wiser and do something more/different. Soon. Not just ‘something’; lots of things. Big ones.
    How do we get our culture to become comfortable, quickly, with mortality?
    How do we accelerate from ‘one-step-at-a-time’ to celebration of goalposts that constantly shift?
    Important not to end with questions – conviction is as infectious as doubt.
    Better believe it!

  48. In the run up to the Copenhagen climate change conference, it is vital the following information be disseminated to the public as well as to our political leaders.

    A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributable to livestock….however recent analysis by Goodland and Anhang co-authors of “Livestock and Climate Change” in the latest issue of World Watch magazine found that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions!

    http://www.51percent.org

    The main sources of GHGs from animal agriculture are: (1) Deforestation of the rainforests to grow feed for livestock. (2) Methane from manure waste. – Methane is 72 times more potent as a global warming gas than CO2 (3) Refrigeration and transport of meat around the world. (4) Raising, processing and slaughtering of the animal.

    Meat production also uses a massive amount of water and other resources which would be better used to feed the world’s hungry and provide water to those in need.

    Based on their research, Goodland and Anhang conclude that replacing livestock products with soy-based and other alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. They say “This approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations-and thus on the rate the climate is warming-than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”

    The fact is that we are being informed of the dangerous path we are on by depending greatly on animal flesh for human consumption. We still have the opportunity to make the most effective steps in saving ourselves and this planet. By simply choosing a plant based diet we can reduce our carbon foot print by a huge amount.

    We are gambling with our lives and with those of our future generations to come. It’s madness to know we are fully aware of the possible consequences but yet are failing to act.

    Promoting a plant based diet to the public is would be the most effective way to curb deforestation, we hope this will be adopted as a significant measure to save the rainforests and protect the delicate ecology.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  49. Thank you for a post that reflects much of my own perplexity as I seek to understand the interaction of climate science and activities related to climate change. My focus tends to be on the policy makers who fly endlessly around the globe to meeting after meeting in order to hammer out details for Copenhagen. Many of these are committed environmental activists.

    From the policy perspective, the culture of climate change appears as an extension of the development-nexus. United Nations and World Bank programs that funnel cash, line pockets, and produce (perhaps we can hope) some advances in green house gas reductions or adaptive capacities.

    But there are so many glaring inconsistencies. So much cognitive dissonance.

    Your point about people choosing their beliefs and choosing stories by which they live is powerful. We have to remember though that these stories function as much to paper over cognitive dissonance as to resolve it. No where is culture, or the stories cultures tell themselves, purely rational.

    National and international policy has much to do with creating powerful over-arching narratives and it is this battle that pits climate scientists against Inhofe & company.

    But even powerfule green over-arching narratives are not panaceas. As much I want the green policies to win out, I can’t help but wince at the inadequate, inconsistent, dissonant policy processes and remedies.

  50. balanceact - wayne roth says:

    I’m sure glad I stumbled upon this website as it digs right into the heart of what has been gnawing at me, the hopeless feeling that a few climate skeptics with a deeper understanding of Human needs, and more passion,and catchier phrases are going to overwhelm the science of climate change and leave our Planet a catastrophic mess for the Future. Mr. Marshall, your perceptions of the limited communications skills of scientists to instill the necessary passion and develop a shared social belief in the reality of Climate Change is right on the money. Thank you for your clean clear writing, and your personal commitment to change your actions to match your beliefs. Change is not easy even when we know it is necessary. Knowing is not as powerful as Believing.

    If someone follows this thread I would very much appreciate if they could attach the responses to Mr. Marshall’s opinion essay in the New Scientist. I do not have and can not afford a subscription to that publication but I would really like to read the skeptics response that George talked of.

  51. Tom Scott says:

    More is coming to light about how and why the CRU emails were hacked – see this story from the UK’s Mail on Sunday (a right-wing conservative newspaper):

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1233562/Emails-rocked-climate-change-campaign-leaked-Siberian-closed-city-university-built-KGB.html

    There is a bitter irony here. It looks as if all those good folks so eager to expose a grand conspiracy on the part of climate scientists have in fact been playing the part of (very willing, albeit unwitting) accomplices in one of the cleverest pieces of black propaganda of recent years. It seems increasingly probable that the whole exercise has been masterminded by the Russian security services – formerly known as the KGB – who have a proud track record in this respect.

    Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man himself, must be delighted at the ease with which effective action to place curbs on the fossil fuel industry has been sabotaged.

  52. Milan says:

    Adopting a personal ethical position where you don’t fly or otherwise travel long distances because of climate change is rather problematic: it has no upside, and a lot of downside. There is no upside because nobody is willing to copy you. Even people who agree that the science on climate change is compelling, that our emissions harm future generations, and that this creates moral obligations are unwilling to give up the opportunity to travel to interesting distant places, as well as visit friends and family members in far-flung locales (like the other side of this massive country). Tony Blair won’t give up his holidays in Barbados, and people with family, work, and school split between different regions won’t give up the option to cycle between them regularly.

    The downside associated with making this kind of personal example is clear, and goes beyond sacrificing new experiences, family, and friends. Once you have taken the stance, any abandonment will be perceived by a lot of people as proof that environmentalists are hypocrites, that obligations to avoid highly-emitting activities are weak, etc. While the example of being abstinent isn’t forceful enough to make others equally scrupulous, the counter-example of lapses from abstinence provides rich material to rationalize morally dubious actions.

    All this is true regardless of the strength of weakness of the key moral arguments that would underpin such a personal position. They are just undesirable secondary sociological characteristics.

  53. Jack says:

    The reason for the success of climate change denial is an important issue to understand and I think ‘belief’ is the right word to use. I would like to see a poll that compares people’s position on climate change, evolution and the role of government. My guess is these issues will closely align. So, in my opinion, arguing climate change is almost as big a challenge as arguing evolution. Here in the USA approximately 44% of the population do not believe in evolution.

  54. Claire says:

    Climate change is a fact, of how we define it is something that needs to be straightened out. The issue of whether man causes it or not will still be a long debate that even after one wins in the debate many will still fight for an appeal to reconsider the verdict. In short, it will take shorter time to feel the the worsening effects of climate change rather than the resolution of the debate. I guess NGO’s and governments and societies should rather prepare people, and make way for adaptation measures to the changing climate.

  55. Anne says:

    I personally have chosen not to fly or eat meat specifically for environmental reasons, and it has been several years since I have done either, despite being an expat on a different continent than my family. The choice leaves me struggling between developing a superiority complex to frustration over why others can’t do the same. However, I am still convinced that these choices are necessary and I do not regret them.

    To me, climate change is not only scientific fact, but also quite visible, namely from the abnormal weather patterns in all regions of the world.

    I believe that the majority of people suffer from the “human nature” problem; they are unwilling to accept change and unwilling to admit their mistakes or that their beliefs are/were false. Society takes a long time to change, and changes spring from a foundation of education and so clearly a large part of the solution is to spread the word and teach our children the signifance of their actions. Now the only challenge is to do that without coming off as a hippie vegan tree-hugger!

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