Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: Why We Ignore Climate Change

Do you ever wonder why you're so careful to remember that reusable coffee mug and those cloth grocery bags, but cannot give up your long showers? I do.

Don't know why you can feel for the people suffering from drought and fire far across the country, but not be as concerned about water use at home?

Don't know why not everyone thinks to recycle cans or bottles?

George Marshall helps us understand in his terrific, terrific book Don't Even Think About It!

It is far better to read this book than take only my brief notes from it, but here is my very simple summary: humans are complex; so is climate change. Family (human family) counseling is in order.

We humans compartmentalize our emotional brain and our rational brain in effect allowing us to hold two contrary thoughts at once.

We humans also accept and hold onto information that confirms what we already believe. We are willing to shape our opinions to reflect available data, expectations, and options (no drought yet so won't happen here).

We are likely to choose to listen to media and peers that affirm our beliefs, creating a "false consensus" as we limit the information they allow in. (Think you you stream only certain media, or give a thumbs up to certain kinds of music.)

We may feel that climate messages are too easily hijacked by media, corporate types, and activists. This makes it so difficult or risky to choose whom to trust, so why try? ("I heard that recyclers in [big city name] just take it to the landfill, so why bother recycling".)

We often think someone else is more likely to have success at tackling such a big problem, such as someone in the government or in charge of an energy company.

And the kicker, is that though Climate Change, its components and impacts, is all around us, it is frequently invisible. We humans find it easier to get up in arms against a visible enemy with a clear evil intent and obvious past transgressions.

That's quite a list! You can see how together those conditions create helpless or disconnected attitudes. When we suffer from episodes of bystander syndrome we can leave climate change to others to manage. When we let our confirmation bias or availability bias engage, we can attribute climate-related discomforts and difficulties to diffuse, multiple causes far away, and can stop short of seeing our own connections. And if the Climate isn't out to get us, and there's no enemy but ourselves, where is the urgency?

Museums to the rescue. Museums can help humans understand what has happened and is happening, and can connect that evidence to people's values, attitudes, knowledge, skills, and agency so that we all can do something productive.

The American public continues to consider museums the most, or among the most, trusted sources of information. Let's devise a coordinated effort that results in the public seeing collective response to climate change as the smart thing, the right thing, and the thing we want to be a part of. Let's make it cool (and then normal) to be aware and active. Let's give ourselves a safe place to talk about our questions and fears around climate change and their futures. Then we can come together to take creative, strategic steps toward Change

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