Communicating sustainability: lessons from public health

Some lessons from public health for sustainability and climate campaigners.  Our choices are largely not our own — context and norms are far more powerful forces for behavioral change than abstract attitudes.  Most people just stick with the default settings.  We need to change the default settings.

Why climate change is a wicked moral problem

Dave Roberts at Grist picked over a recent Nature paper examining the fact that climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, the same way terrorist attacks or even oil spills do. and the ways we might try and work around those cognitive issues if we’re going to get sustained political support for dealing with it seriously (original paper here).

In a related vein William Gibson recently commented:

I assume that we live in the first era in human history against which all posterity will have reason to hold a sad and bitter grudge.

Many people responded with things to the effect of “What about slavery?”, referring to past egregious social and economic injustices we’ve inflicted upon each other.  I thought his response was poetic:

The difference between knowing murders were committed in your ancestral home and knowing fools let it burn to the ground. Hence your tent.

Thankfully that Nature paper also included potential cognitive and messaging work arounds, so we can hopefully get people to react, and then respond appropriately.  Now if only we can bring ourselves to use them.

Dust Bowl Scale Drought Unrelated to Climate Change?

A couple of weeks ago Bill McKibben wrote a sarcastic op-ed encouraging people to ignore any possible connection between climate change and the unusually intense tornado season, as well as other extreme weather events.  I thought it was a little hyperbolic — of course people must be considering all this weather news in that light, right?  But maybe he wasn’t being over the top.  This NY Times article about Dust Bowl scale drought across the south and southwest doesn’t mention climate change once.  The omission seemed conspicuous.

Climate of Denial

Understanding American climate change politics by analogy with the World Wrestling Federation.  The Carbon Lobby is the “evil” wrestler, scientists the “good” one, and the media plays referee.  The kind of referee that’s always preoccupied with something outside the ring when the bad guy starts beating the good guy up with a chair.  From Rolling Stone of course.

Corporate Climate Adaptation

The Carbon Disclosure Project is helping industry adapt to climate change.  It’s almost painfully ironic that some of their biggest customers are electrical utilities, mining, and, of course, oil and gas.  75% of the Alaska Pipeline is built on permafrost.  And it’s melting.  And they’re sure not gonna let the PR department keep them from shoring up the footings, just because they don’t believe it’s getting warmer.

Why I Won’t Be Turning Off Any Lights for Earth Hour

A GOOD (Magazine) summary of why Earth Hour is lame.  First, it’s symbolic — turning lights off for an hour has a negligible effect on your (and the globe’s) energy consumption.  Second, the symbolism (which is all it’s got) totally sucks!  Want to be environmentally sound?  Then sit shivering in the dark.  Great.  Widely publicizing an action which is both unnecessary and turns people off (ha!), isn’t gonna win any hearts or minds.  It just reinforces the needlessly “hair shirt” vision of “green” that most people have.

Links for the week of October 19th, 2010

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Continue reading Links for the week of October 19th, 2010