Climate Change Denial

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December 6, 2013


George Marshall @ 4:38 pm

The silence around climate change requires explanation. It is not just the absence of discussion: it is a socially constructed condition of disattention with its own demographics, values and rules. It exists in multiple forms: as a total exclusion of all discussion of climate change, as boundaries that exclude aspects of climate change from discussion, or as taboos that define certain forms of expression to be socially inappropriate.   This silence is a major impediment to building concerted action and it urgently requires analysis.

In a series of papers over the next few months the Climate Outreach Information Network will study the Climate Silence and suggest ways that it might be countered.

The first paper, by my colleague Dr. Adam Corner, describes the extent of the Silence and proposes that it should be broken with a series of conversations about climate change, initiated by representatives of different communities (not just green campaigners), in order to build a more meaningful storyline that speaks better to peoples core values.

Download it here:

The second paper in the series, by George Marshall, will explore the demographics of the silence and the ways that it is bounded and enforced. It will be published in early 2014. Please join the discussion.

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13 responses to “CLIMATE SILENCE”

  1. hugh says:

    This is very much needed. The SILENCE is deafening. Nothing seems to be happening or if it is it is barely perceptible, in terms of the media, in state or national politics, or any other venue that would reach the general public.

  2. Ellen Perry says:

    Thank you George. Great topic. I think the silence is because it’s so scary people feel helpless and don’t want to talk about it. I work everyday selling solar power. Solar power is available to many people but there’s huge misconceptions about it which are furthered by the media. The biggest one is that it’s “too expensive” (you can lease a system for $0 out of pocket), it will “break the grid” (utility company propaganda) etc. Realistic solutions need to be part of the discussion because you can’t just take fossil fuels away from people without giving them an alternative. Thank you for your commitment to addreesing this issue.

  3. Peter Hale says:

    The silence has been troubling me for years, along with my feeling of ineffectiveness. My biggest frustration is people’s lack of recognition and responsibility for the waste of energy everywhere – overheated shops, offices, public spaces in the winter; excessive air-conditioning everywhere in the summer, buildings ablaze with light, the amount of travel, etc, etc.

    What I am always wishing I could do is to get a national campaign together of people who are prepared to politely challenge these excesses by contacting the management of the culprit organisations, large or small, followed by reporting successes and failures on the group’s web site. I have done some such contacting in the past but it’s been a lonely job. Any takers?

  4. ozbizbozzle says:

    Good timing George. East Coast surge, houses washed away, flooding where no flooding before, even after years of building extra defences. On the the media I watched, no mention of climate change.

  5. Denis Boarder says:

    The direction is absolutely correct!

    I live in Melbourne, Australia and have been similarly frustrated, with the silence and the extremely bad, misleading, inadequate and skewed media reporting. I recently wrote a document that I have pushed towards a number of sites, journalists and bloggers expressing the need for a ‘Communications Strategy’. The objective being to align progressive organisations, and through cooperative and collaborative means:
    1) Achieve economies of scale ($); utilizing a corporate marketing approach to determine and target through professional, planned and well led marketing campaigns.
    2) Timely and effective response to bad, inaccurate and misleading journalism and journalistic practices.
    3) Above all: communicate at an organic and personal level. Attach the ownership of the problem to the individual, making the issue ‘personal’. The inertia is too great to move people until they see ‘benefit’ in doing so and ‘cost’ in not doing so.

    This needs leadership and a willingness to sacrifice some autonomy by those concerned. Shared responsibility under an agreed plan spreads the load and the financial burden.

  6. Robin Guenier says:

    George: thanks – an important topic and not one I’ve seen so cogently considered elsewhere. I’ll be interested to read your paper on the demographics of the silence: when might that be published? In the meantime, here’s my contribution:

    An unfortunate consequence of the deafening “Climate Silence” over the past five years (essentially since the debacle at Copenhagen) is that there’s been little, if any, examination of the lessons of that debacle and, in particular, what its realities mean for Western climate policy. I suggest that, at least to some extent, it may even be that those realities are so uncomfortable that the more perceptive of those who have hitherto been in the forefront of debate are unwilling to talk about them.

    The problem stems from the 1970s when the then overwhelmingly powerful West, to accommodate developing countries’ anxiety to escape poverty and their ambition for economic and political growth, developed the concept of “sustainable development” effectively exempting them from environmental constraint. The concept was formalised at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when the world was divided into two blocs: Annex 1 countries (essentially the developed economies) and Non-Annex 1 countries (essentially the least developed world, OPEC members and the developing, and fastest growing, economies). Under Kyoto (1997), the former were committed to stabilising GHG emissions and the latter were not. Although over the years Non-Annex 1 countries have become increasingly powerful (responsible, for example, for 67% of global CO2 emissions in 2012), they have resolutely refused to change the Annex 1 / Non-Annex 1 categorisation.

    At Copenhagen, Non-Annex 1 countries, led by China, humiliatingly defeated the West. Thereafter the heart went out of climate negotiations: the victors have been in the driving seat ever since, made worse by Canada, Russia, Japan and (probably) Australia tiptoeing away from commitment. That accounts for about 75% of global emissions. And, as the USA won’t sign a binding deal if other major economies don’t, essentially only the EU (little more than 10%) is left. So dreams of a binding global deal in Paris next year are no more than that – dreams. CO2 emissions will continue their inexorable rise. And there’s nothing the EU can do to reverse that.

    As Professor Mike Hulme has said recently, “The debate about climate change needs to become more political, and less scientific.” And in my view the only rational subject for that debate, and for consequential action, is the determination of our (the West’s) optimum course in a world where we are rapidly losing influence, where emissions will rise and where our trying to prevent that from happening is pointless.

    Such a debate may be uncomfortable. But it’s the new “human story”, the new “climate challenge” and its being uncomfortable mustn’t be a reason for avoiding it.

  7. Robin Guenier says:

    Here’s one dilemma (of many) arising from my comment above:

    Let’s assume there’s a possibility the developing nations might change their tune. If so, our continuing to assert just how bad it is, and how grim the outlook if we don’t take action, can only be counter-productive. That’s because it hands them an even bigger stick to beat us with: “OK, you keep repeating it’s so terrible, is happening now and will get far worse. We’re not sure we agree** but, assuming you’re right, it’s historically your fault we’re in this mess. So hand over vast sums of compensation and start massive emission reductions now: only then will we believe you’re really serious. And then, maybe, we’ll consider reduction”.

    As we (the West) cannot do either – for example, the US Congress has shown that, whichever party is in power, they’re not going to agree to unilateral reductions nor (especially since the 2008 banking crisis) to pay money they haven’t got to the cash-rich “developing” economies. Therefore the latter (who obviously know all this) are given the perfect excuse to continue business as usual. And to blame us.


  8. Robin Guenier says:

    There’s a (very) minor typo in my last comment: remove the “As” from the beginning of the last paragraph.

  9. Robin Guenier’s point in his comments above is unanswerable, which is presumably why it hasn’t been answered.
    However, while he is undoubtedly correct logically in stating that only Europe is likely to make serious attempts to cut emissions, it’s an argument that is going to meet stiff opposition on psychological grounds, which is George’s subject, and why his reaction is awaited so eagerly.
    No one likes to be reminded that they’re getting old and feeble, least of all a political union of the 300 million richest people on the planet. We can boast all we like of our rich cultural history and show it off to Chinese tourists; we can send our two and a half nuclear armed submarines somewhere (no-on knows where or against whom); and we can still mount the odd small-scale military intervention in collapsing countries. But our population is dwindling and our growth is near zero, while the rest of the world economy is bounding ahead at 4%p.a. Africans are twice as numerous as us and will be five times as numerous by the end of the century, and richer than we are now, and China will be the richest nation on earth.
    No -one is going to follow our example on emssion reductions. We’re just not important enough. This argument is even harder to accept psychologically than the argument that perhaps climate scientists are not quite as good as they think they are.

  10. Robin Guenier says:

    Here’s another dilemma arising from the above:

    What’s the concerned UK environmentalist to do given that (a) unless there are radical cuts in GHG emissions, global warming will be a serious threat to mankind and the planet, and (b) countries responsible for about 70% of emissions are, for the reasons set out above (also see this: **), almost certain to continue to reject any binding obligation to reduce their emissions?

    There would seem to be two options:

    1. Either go to Beijing and, avoiding scientific argument, make their case to the Politburo for a change of heart based on personal conviction as a global neighbour.

    2. Or, as the UK cannot overcome the threat, prioritise a radical review of how best to ensure the economy is strong enough to provide some degree of protection to people and the environment.

    Unfortunately only the second would seem to be practical.


  11. Robin Guenier says:

    Re my option 2 (above), one item to consider might be the abolition of wind and solar power subsidies and the reallocation of the money saved to reducing fuel bills and building stronger defences against the anticipated climate chaos. After all, if we’re unable to prevent the chaos (see above), it’s immoral to further enrich rich landowners and the better-off middle classes while harming the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

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