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Friday, October 8, 2010

Global Climate Change - What's that again?

This month's Green Moms Carnival is hosted by Harriet Sugarman of Climatemama. She is new to the Green Moms Carnival and has arranged for us to participate in 350.org's 10/10/10 Global Work Party.

There are a lot of niggling details being argued over in climate change and environmental circles. 350 ppm. Peak oil dates. Number of species gone extinct.

But, I've come to the realization that many of these details are, for the most part, irrelevant. We've got a much bigger problem. And it's called apathy. Actually, it's much worse than apathy because apathy suggests something more hopeful. No, what we've got is distrust, disbelief, the desire to prove wrong and more, importantly, hatred.

Until these issues are addressed our message (whatever it is) will just bounce off the heads of those we are trying to educate or encourage. Take my low-heat challenge for example. Plenty of news agencies have covered it and, what I'm suggesting isn't that people totally turn off their heat. I think the message is pretty tame - turn your heat down a few degrees and save money and lower your carbon footprint at the same time. Does it sound nuts to you? I don't think so - it sounds intelligent.

What's the general reaction?
Well, one group goes nuts claiming that there's no such thing as anthropogenic warming (human caused global warming). Their eyes get so crossed by their ideas about it, they don't see the underlying message: reduce your expenses and reduce your energy usage. Instead, they see the suggestion as a threat. By participating in lowering their energy usage, it might seem like they agree with climate change.

The next group takes great pride in doing the opposite. In other words, they state they will turn up their heat just to make up for us idiots who are lowering ours. They are happy to dig their heels in and spend more money just to prove a point.

Another group is the nitpickers. They relish pointing out errors (or perceived errors) in the message without acknowledging that generally interviews are comprised of quotes taken from a much broader conversation or, in many cases, taken completely out of context. The message is lost on them because they are too busy trying to find fault and too busy self-congratulating to listen.

The last group feels threatened. Somehow, reading about how others haved changed the way they live threatens their way of life as if it's some sort of conspiracy to force them to do it too. Just offering the information = "communist environmental takeover". I find it quite confounding. I'm not enacting legislation. How is lowering my thermostat a threat to your lifestyle? Because it just might become more socially acceptable?

It's easy for all of these folks to relegate environmentalists into a hippy, dread-locked, patchouli-wearing, non-shaving group of people that they can ignore because they are easy to spot. So, when the idea is presented by someone mainstream looking, is it even more threatening to them? I would imagine it's easier to ignore someone who fits the stereotype but not so much if we look like them. I think there's a fear that we are infiltrating their camp, disseminating a plot to take over their consumerist lifestyle.

If we can't get even simple messages across to the masses, what hope is there for more complicated behavioral changes that actually cost money or take more time (rather than saving it)? How do we reach these groups and their knee-jerk reaction to environmental/energy issues? Any suggestions? Do you see this as hopeless or not?

25 comments:

Aimee said...

I think changing the minds of the entrenched is probably hopeless - numerous studies suggest that people tend to dismiss evidence that contradicts their preconceived notions (and just because I can't help it - the same studies suggest that self-described conservatives do this to a much greater extent than do self described liberals).

But we too are guilty - imagine for a minute listening to a rock-ribbed republican explaining why, oh, Glenn Beck is right about anything. Do your ears glaze over? Mine do. Nobody wants to listen critically to what they have already identified as puerile drivel.

So... since we know our side is scientifically right, and that the consequences are dire, and that we can't persuade... do we try to coerce?

oooh, so anti-liberal! What a shame that our only hope of creating real change - coercion - is so antithetical to our ideals! What to do... what to do....

Kelly said...

its easy. we LEGISLATE!

Brad K. said...

Crunchy,

I have a couple of reasons to doubt the human part of AGW. I think they are reasonable. (I will try to skip listing them for now.)

But I have no doubts about peak oil, nor do I doubt the linkage between cheap oil, modern affluence, abundant food through agribusiness, and the enormity of the economic damage done by the current Presidential administration and Congress. Nor do I doubt that the resources have been squandered that had been needed to adapt to the "end of the era of cheap energy" (since peak coal is approaching soon) or "entering the post-industrial era", as the culmination of peak oil has been described. We no longer have the funds to build the wave motors, the wind turbines, the hydroelectric projects, the nuclear reactors, and the solar arrays needed to maintain our "modern" way of life without significant change.

I am happy to discuss and consider adapting to post-peak oil, if you will allow me to stipulate that the human part of AGW is unproven to my satisfaction.

I think part of the resistance to your lowered thermostat challenge is that you picked a name that conjures pagan rituals - freeze your buns - this exciting those seeing Satan behind every other headline. Partly, too, is that utility companies and the labor unions that feed off them don't really want to see wholesale drops in usage. Organized labor, especially, seems heavily steeped in propaganda mongering, of demonizing those they oppose. Don't overlook the way you might warp the "keeping up with the Joneses" dynamic into motivating neighborhoods and communities to take responsibility for responsible conservation. This is not about what you do with your thermostat, the resistance has to do with publishing your challenge, of attempting to initiate (or support) a change of the American way of life of today.

Change is measured in pain. You can see the signs of the grieving for the loss of the way of life in the past - Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grief: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance.

How to bring others onboard adapting to peak oil and/or AGW mitigation? In the past, going to war with the enemy has been partially successful, at times. Inquisition, making heresy a capital crime and rooting out the naysayers took time, and was marginally successful. Prohibition drove alcohol consumption onto the black market, for a time, as did the laws banning other drugs, killing, theft, etc.

The Department of Education has long been a tool of liberals to implement social agendas from forbidding the pledge of allegiance and school prater, to racial integration and often radical naturalist activism. I think it was Hitler that said, "Give me your children, and I will take your nation." Thus the liberals instituted enforced community service, as interpreted by the Federal Dept of Ed, of school children.

I don't much cotton to the thought of coercing laws. But I do think it is necessary to use recall elections to remove those in office that fail to dismantle the structures that assure continuing as in the past. I think just removing the laws and regulations that prohibit or inhibit the adaptations needed will be sufficient. Note that one of the most significant obstacles is organized labor - which is not voted in, and cannot be voted out of office. Labor unions are notorious for resisting anything that diminishes money in their coffers - such as conservation and value changes.

And, unfortunately there are relatively few success stories, of the sort that looks like a success to mainstream media producers, and not a regression to hillbilly life or the stone age. Perception and image in politics and mass media have always been more important than substance.

sustainablegeekgirl said...

I also think that there are just a lot of people that feel like they are being judged and looked down upon by those that do these things. We see the same thing in any movement.

I'm not sure what the answer is, though.

Dea-chan said...

The trick is to catch them when they aren't being a smartass. Phrase it in a way that makes sense. Once they've hit jackass, self-destructive-in-order-to-bring-others-down, there's no way to reach them. You can try to be polite, but as we all know, that often only inflames and empowers the trolls.

But the only way to catch them when they're not in that state, is to have the message EVERYWHERE. Places they least expect it. Church, news, sitcoms, the radio, EVERYWHERE. And to get to that point, we have to convince people, and thus the cycle begins anew.

^ a.k.a., not a real answer, sorry

thesimplepoppy said...

Crap, I just lost a my comment. I think you can forget about right wingers who believe it's their right to "rape" the earth. What the environmental movement has done a really poor job of is reaching out to people outside the Prius driving choir. Low income and minorities. The people who are more open minded. More likely to vote liberal. And who would love to stick it to "the man." Rather than try to convert those who ARE THE MAN.

And seriously, you have to admit that you kind of get the feeling that college educated, arugula loving, hybrid driving greenies aren't going to be too thrilled with the prospect of having their Farmer's Markets flooded with janitors, truck drivers, and Kroger's cashiers. I'm not saying everyone feels like that - but it's definitely there, and it's a big reason a lot of these people don't give a toss about environmentalism.

psmflowerlady said...

I've always been a proponent of the WIIFM (What's In It For Me?) philosophy when trying to influence change. Some people can look to long-term beliefs and make change. Others, not so much. I tend to keep my house very cool in the winter (63ish) but I like it that way - or so I have learned to believe. I do that by finding and keeping available luscious hot drinks (herbal teas, hot chocolate, etc.), cozy flannel jammies and locally-made felt slippers, a comfort-smelling house by evening baking and handmade blankets big enough for cuddling during movie-watching. I'm not saying everyone should have this - I am saying that by making sure I have desirable alternatives, I am more likely to choose a wiser, less-comfortable in the short term alternative.
I am not noble. But I am motivated by certain things. I am also put off by preaching and being made to feel "less than". So, if someone out there tells me that I am in some way less caring for the planet than they, because they have solar heat, keep their thermostat set @ 60 and only use the dung of organically fed stray animals as a fuel source, then I'm not going to feel so good about my 63ish temp setting. And then a line is drawn and I believe that is when the bickering begins. If I suddenly feel "less than", don't have a good answer for WIIFM AND have to modify my behavior, I might choose to resist the behavior change or even to actively oppose the change and the justification for it.
And although I disagree with some of what Brad K said, I do agree with the notion that change can be made through our children (although I hate that it had to be made through a quote by Hitler). I am a child of the 60's/70's and I still think of the Native American paddling the canoe with the tear in his eye when he saw litter. Over 30 years later, I still can NOT litter without a pang of guilt - so I don't. That was for me, a very effective message - probably because of the age @ which I received it. So, don't be discouraged, it may take a generation, but the message will get there - hopefully in time. All change is slow and faced with resistence. Sometimes the more painful the change process, the more ingrained the behavior.

Aimee said...

I'm wondering how the words " freeze yer buns" conjure the vision of pagan rituals for Brad. What sort of ritual might that be? Being a kind of pagan, I am always curious about how other see us .... With goose bumps apparently?!

Brad K. said...

@ Crunchy,

Ryan is also pondering the issues of adapting and resistance, "Why do people fail to adapt?".
http://tslrf.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-do-people-fail-to-adapt.html

@ Aimee, @ Kelly,

Liberals have a long history of resorting to coercion and removing opposing options to enact their agenda. It is the conservative that relies on individuals to make an informed choice. I am relying on the classic definitions of "liberal as advocating change or correction for improvement" and "conservative as relying on stability and security of the status quo, to assure the well being of the largest number."

What political parties and agendas have made of the liberal and conservative labels looks like the work of . . um, politicians?

Greenpa said...

"How do we reach these groups and their knee-jerk reaction to environmental/energy issues? Any suggestions? Do you see this as hopeless or not?"

ooh, long discussion. Not one I think I can do adequately here; this is one for the locked room conversation. :-)

I'll make one suggestion, if you promise not to explode. Part of the problem is you.

And all our education. We believe - literally as a matter of religion - that reason convinces. If the recipient is listening.

But if you'll check your actual experience, and all history- I gotta tell ya; there's no evidence for this belief.

My own aphorism; "Logic is the opiate of the educated."

Literally; the masses (you and me too) have NEVER responded to clear reasonable messages. Really, truly, not ever.

But; behaviors do change. And there are, indeed, people who know how to change them, like the really vicious businesses who pay people to keep chanting "global warming is a hoax". That works.

And we simply have no one with an effective counter-chant; rather, we say "oh, wait, let's discuss it! I'll convince you!"

Lewis Carroll had it nailed. "Anything I tell you three times is true."

The difficult part, for any trained thinker, is actually abandoning the concept that you can change the world with reason. It's unreasonable, really.

Greenpa said...

Another analogy; from my blog:

http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/2008/09/sigh-dick-van-dyke-knew-all-about-it.html

Our situation is identical. We'uns are Dick; playing chess; the rabid mouth frothing deniers are the huge boxing champion; boxing. It's NOT a discussion.

We have to learn to box- or we're going to (continue to) get the stuffing knocked out of us.

Annie said...

I try to change peoples' minds through living by example. It is a slow and perhaps unreliable way to create change, but maybe it's also less subject to emotional arguments and angry rhetoric. When I was younger I loved conflict and debate and I wanted to do something grand and "important" with my life to fight the good fight. But then I got really tired and conflict and debate started to make me ill. As I tried to figure out what this personality change meant for me, I remembered my dad always saying that the most important thing he could do with his life is live every day with deliberation, always making choices that were consistent with his beliefs. As I got tired that started to make a lot more sense to me. I think he meant that all the small acts of living were in and of themselves the most effective and important thing he could do to make the world a better place. So now, since I have this aversion to conflict, I quietly go about my business making ever more radical choices about our lifestyle and I'm all incognito because I seem normal. But, anyone I get to know will soon begin to see these weird things I do and I find it makes them think. Sometimes they ask about it and sometimes they don't, but I think I'm slowly and subtly affect the people around me. And because the changes are small and slow, they might be more permanent than a lively debate full of "my facts are better than your facts" kind of arguments.

It's the only thing I've come up with that might work because I think a lot of this ideological polarization is the result of fundamentally different world views and how on earth do you change that? People either believe there are enough resources to go around, or they don't. People either think unrestricted economies are most effective at distributing resources or they don't. There is really not a lot of middle ground and, as with most things, both assumptions about the way the world works are probably true some of the time. For example, in the discussion posted so far, Brad K. talks about organized labor and how unions are all about the wrong kinds of things. I'm in a very anti-union state but I disagree. However, it's b/c my interactions with unions have been positive that I think they're ok. But of course sometimes unions are ridiculous and corrupt. So how would you change my mind and make me hate unions? It's not really possible b/c I see them doing good in my community. And how would you change the mind of someone who has experienced only union corruption?

And I think psmflowerlady is right on the money. My low consumption lifestyle is filled with coziness and quality. Cultivating comfort, elegance, and quality in my life makes sacrifices much easier to deal with and in many cases I feel like going back to the way most people do things would be a huge sacrifice! After years of cooking from scratch so we can afford top notch ingredients the idea of going back to convenience food is revolting. And cloth wipes are sooo soft and comfortable that it would be a punishment to go back to toilet paper.

Brad K. said...

@ Aimee,

When the King James version of the bible was translated, some scholars counted 1400 deliberate mistranslation in the New Testament. One of those substituted "naked" for "drunken orgy with overtones of depraved behavior".

"Freeze your buns" carries an implication of bare - exposed - private parts. To some people, nakedness means heretical sex, or worship of something-not-their-deity (seen as another facet of their Satan). Or both devil worship and unholy sex.

I didn't claim it was rational. But getting past the taboos and dogma is the central issue here - because it doesn't come from rational discussion. Not when your dialog partner isn't interested in a dialog, and is defensive about anything that challenges dearly held notions.

@ Annie,

Your "show them a different way, and wait for them to inquire about it" seems to be right on target. If there is time enough to affect a neighborhood or community that way.

@ Greenpa,

Well said.

Rosa said...

Carbon taxes. People change their behavior when money comes into the picture. Mental change follows action change for most folks anyway.

Eco Yogini said...

I agree 100%. Excellent post.

and then you get the people who post ads with exploding children for 10:10 (see that one yet??). nice job.

Brad K. said...

Rosa,

Barry Goldwater had it several years ago, "You cannot legislate morality."

Carbon taxes won't work. Look at how punitive taxes have failed to reduce smoking, or the dangers to young and old smokers. And carbon taxes will increase costs of goods we buy, increase markups - and profits - for corporations, increase government size to monitor and enforce, and increase government waste and spending. Oh, and increase the cost of running the government, too, as the goods and services they buy - like the rest of us - get more expensive.

I suppose you could get the IRS to stop allowing depreciation and depletion allowances on mining and drilling. That would be a back-handed carbon tax, with the same kinds of after-effects.

I put together a longer post on my blog, "Brad's Take",
http://www.draftresource.com/mytake/2010/10/09/cc-getting-out-the-post-carbon-message/

Mary said...

@ Brad K.
"Carbon taxes won't work. Look at how punitive taxes have failed to reduce smoking, or the dangers to young and old smokers."

Do you have a source to back up this statement about cigarette taxes? I've been trying to find information pro and con on this subject.

Rosa said...

It's hard to tease out cause and effect, but both high cigarette taxes and laws restricting where people can smoke are correlated pretty strongly with lower smoking rates. The effects are muted in places near borders where there is a steep change in taxes - such as around some reservations and near borders of states with high and low cigarette taxes.

Specifically high taxes do discourage teens from *starting* smoking, so we should see the effect of taxes growing over time. Which we have, but it was concurrent with huge education and clean air law campaigns, so it's hard to know which things caused it.

This study is British, but it has the unexciting finding that people with less money are more responsive to pricing changes in cigarettes:
http://www.bmj.com/content/309/6959/923.abstract

This one is American, and more recent, and has the even less surprising conclusion that combining taxes with clean air regulation of where people can smoke is the most effective strategy to reduce smoking:

http://journals.lww.com/jphmp/Abstract/2004/07000/The_Effects_of_Tobacco_Control_Policies_on_Smoking.11.aspx

The other thing about smoking is that it's become highly class-differentiated in the US, which researchers generally ascribe to education levels (class and education being pretty tightly linked) but I do wonder if it's also a fashion thing coming from the banning of smoking ads and product placement. Which would also mirror the green movement, which has gotten a popular stereotype of being for rich people lately - almost the opposite of the stereotype 20 years ago.

Rosa said...

p.s. we saw drops in driving miles per person during the high gas prices of a few years ago that were pretty obviously linked. Also, the effects of goods prices on consumption is a main tenet of economics, so I don't see how saying a carbon tax raises prices is an argument *against* it lowering carbon outputs. Higher prices lower consumption.

Anonymous said...

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I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and infrequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the nation a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useable members of the United States, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation and save millions in taxes for the hardworking billionaires.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed liberals; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them as those who demand our charity from social services ballooning the national deficits.

”I have been assured by a very knowing Conservative American Karl Rove, my acquaintance in Washington, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...”

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of welfare mom; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the nation, or wanting food stamps and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands of unemployed Americans.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions by those God hatting fag loving liberals and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

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Brad K. said...

@ Mary,

Nope - just going by how many packs the local store sells each day, the few acquaintances I know that quit because of anything besides that dratted oxygen bottle they have to lug around, and the number of young adults, high schoolers and middle schoolers that I see take regular smoke breaks.

And the number of very poor people that I see, that smoke.

@ Rosa,

I bow to your statistics on smoking. I live between a couple of native reservations, with their tobacco stores.

As for the "rich" stereotype, there is another that rises, too.

College changes the way a person thinks. Plus, some schools are noted for radical - and often unworkable - theories. Among people that haven't been to college, so-called wild ideas are often viewed with skepticism.

Let the discussion stray into something like a college level, and you turn off a number of your audience. "If you learned that in college, it don't mean anything. When my neighbors, or the guys in the coffee shop, claim it's so, I will pay attention." And truly.

I find that people that admit to having been to college often have a tougher time landing a job under a supervisor that hasn't? Many "craft" business barely accept a resume from someone with more schooling than trade school. Ideas coming from someone from college are seen as suspect.

A lady wrote Ann Landers some years ago, claiming her engineer husband was so smart she couldn't understand him. The reply went something like, if he was so smart, he should be able to figure out how to talk so his wife - or anyone he talked to - could understand.

Which is what Crunchy is saying - that more energy needs to be put into relating the concepts and issues to the masses, even as more energy is needed for action and for organizing those already motivated.

Lynn from OrganicMania.com said...

Deanna,

Wonderful post, and I agree with your points...

What do I think?

I think the solution lies in Big Business introducing solutions that consumers get no choice in, basically. We'll all be driving self-propelled cars (Google) or hybrid electrics (Nissan, Ford, etc) and getting our energy via the SmartGrid.

I think making green mainstream through business is the only way to solve this, and that's where I'm spending more and more of my energy these days via my business consulting firm.

And by the way, I get almost as frustrated with my dear friends expending tons of energy trying to find the "perfect" solution between two reasonable alternatives. At that point, it's better to go out and pick up trash than debate and research on the Internet!

Olivia said...

From the perspective of a card carrying seventies hippie back-to-the-lander, when we read Whole Earth Catalogues and built windmills and geodesic domes and grew all our own organic food and became vegetarians and kept goats and promoted solar power and eschewed all things modern, convinced that we were at the forefront of a great environmental change of consciousness, only to see it all evaporate in the great over consumptive glut of the following decades, I will just say, "What goes around, comes around."

Scott and Helen Nearing (among others) were promoting this stuff decades before I even appeared on the planet and, no doubt, people will be promoting it long after I have departed.

My kids grew up thinking that having your own garden and recycling and composting etc. were a natural part of everyone's life.

A wise priest once told me that "you can't beat anyone into the kingdom of heaven." I think the same thing applies here. I do what I can and raised my kids that way but flogging people over the head with my ideas never changed anyone . . . and, in my youth, I was quite the preacher!

The movement will rise and ebb as does everything else in life.

Mary said...

@ Brad K. -"Carbon taxes won't work. Look at how punitive taxes have failed to reduce smoking, or the dangers to young and old smokers."

I think at the very least that it's pretty irresponsible of you to spout out as "facts" your own opinions or wishful thinking. Unless you have evidence to back up your "facts" please keep them to yourself instead of muddying the waters of discussion.

Rosa said...

@Brad K - the thing is, when I was a kid in the '70s the stuff Crunchy advocates here - raising food, turning down the heat, driving less - was what you did if you were poor. The idea that canning vegetables is a middle-class hobby is new, and pretty strange, when canning is a Ma & Pa Kettle type activity.

The way "green" became a market instead of a behavior sets up this idea of rich movie stars being conservationists, but that's a real shallow surface.

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