Climate Change Denial

March 21, 2014


George Marshall @ 12:09 pm

Following my last post, announcing COIN’s report on the challenges of communicating climate change around extreme weather events, I had a very interesting hour long interview/discussion with Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the inspiring Transition Movement.

You can hear it/read the transcription here- LINK…

In our discussion we also explored the wider and, I find, fascinating issues of socially constructed conviction and silence. I have particular admiration for Rob and the Transition movement, because they have, from the very beginning, recognised the centrality of these issues – Transition is, as it says, an “exploration” of how to build conviction “from head to heart” through locally based peer communication.

This interview is a first public airing for some of the ideas that I will explore in my forthcoming book: Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, which will be published by Bloomsbury US/international in September 2014.


  1. Mark Archambault says:

    Great interview with George Marshall. I have trouble being optimistic given all the mechanisms he describes by which people can deny the crisis that’s unfolding in real time, but the near future may surprise us.

    • Dear Mark, I am always a bit dismayed when I hear that I am ‘depressing’ people. My real goal is to understand the narrative and psychological landscape and uncover some groundrules for traversing it- I am confident that language of united purpose and shared values works well, but it requires a different way of working.- George

  2. Ruben says:

    George, I posted this comment over on the Transition Blog, but wanted to make sure you saw it. First, because I gush a bit about you, but second to continue the conversation. (especially your thoughts on my Quibble)


    George, I have been working in sustainability for a long itme now, and have been studying and building programs around behaviour for several years.

    This interview is literally the best thing I have read about climate change in several years. You really hit this out of the park.

    I talk about social proof, but I like your use of social fact–I am going to start using that.

    I would like to suggest that after a disaster is exactly when to talk about climate change, but here is an idea for how to do it.

    “This is terrible, I am so sorry this happened to you. And of course, it wasn’t your fault–you did everything you were supposed to do. You did everything right, you were following the rules. The problem is the rules are out of date. Outdated Rules are to blame.”

    This allows us to place blame, which feels nice. It also allows us to avoid blaming ourselves, which will generate enormous resistance. By blaming Outdated Rules, we are situating the problem in the past, so we don’t get the unproductive urge to blame government as a whole. But, Outdated Rules are clearly a problem, so the current government needs to act to update the Outdated Rules.

    So, it is Outdated Rules that allowed people to build in a floodplain, but it would be insane to rebuild in the floodplain, because, after all, the Rules must be Updated.

    It was Outdated Rules that allowed us to build homes with no insulation, but Updated Rules will make sure our new homes are safe, efficient, and comfortable.

    It was Outdate Rules that allowed urban sprawl, but Updated Rules will give us access to the services we want from our communities.

    You talked about the social context, and in the following essay, I add the system context. The physical context shapes our behaviour–I am convinced at scales orders of magnitudes larger. I would love it if you would read it.

    Again, this is the best thing I have read in this area in years. Thank you so much.


    Quibbles: I am not at all convinced that values matter in any way. I have read Crompton, but I need to see more proof in people’s behaviour–the proof in the pudding. I see people behaving contrary to their values all the time.

  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Excellent interview, George. As a psychologist who has worked on environmental issues since 1972, I agree with much of it.

    The psychology of denial is well understood, and actually we all do it, just not necessarily about climate change. I don’t have the space here to give my understanding, but am offering a web-based interactive workshop on how to move the opinions of deniers. I could not find contact information here, so am using this means of opening up communication with you. Please email me bob at bobswriting. dot com


  4. Mack says:

    If you’re not doing anything much you might like to read this one comment I’ve made here , don’t miss reading the links…there’s quite a lot of reading to do following.
    Cheers and kind regards

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