Should we even be talking about it? People obviously don’t want to talk about it so maybe we should respect their wishes. Why force them to talk about something they don’t want to talk about? Everyone’s in favour of green stuff anyway so what is there to talk about? Climate change is really bad! Who wants to hear that? What’s the point?
That’s the standard politician’s argument. There is no political capital to be gained from talking about climate change. Not unless you have a solution to climate change. If you had that then talking about climate change would be easy. The fact that not only do we have no solution to it, we can’t even imagine what a solution might look like. Global international agreement on a scale the world has never seen before. (Except perhaps the Montréal Protocol to ban CFCs causing ozone depletion, but CFCs weren’t an integral part of our economy the way fossil fuels are.)
If someone was to put forward a viable solution, one that didn’t involve us going back to living like our grandparents did, that let us keep our mod cons and most of the things we like about our modern lives. A solution that didn’t ask for superhuman levels of personal sacrifice as far as most of us are concerned is something that many of us would pay attention to.
We like stories and we particularly like success stories. Tragedies are OK, when they’re happening to someone else. If the tragedy is the story of our own civilisation then you’re not going to get many people tuning in.
Daniel Kahneman talks about System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 is what we do most of the time. It’s intuitive, associative, it likes stories and anecdotes, it listens to the people it likes, it looks for coherence. System 2 on the other hand is the logical and rational evidence-based thinking. We tend not to use System 2 so much as it takes a lot of effort.
Here’s a video of him talking about such things – he starts after a pretty long introduction, about six minutes in. You have to talk to people’s System 1, he says. That means telling them stories.
Ask people what is more likely, a flood killing 1000 people or an earthquake in California leading to a flood that kills 1000 people? People tend to rate the second as being more likely than the first, even though the first scenario includes the second and therefore has to be more likely. The thing is, the second one is a believable story. The first is too general. It sounds like a statistic. The second sounds like the plot for a disaster movie, and probably a pretty bad disaster movie. (If you wanted a happy ending then the movie would have to revolve around a heroic bunch of geeks trying to convince the authorities and the public that an earthquake is on its way and the consequences are likely to be devastating.)
George Marshall asks whether our brains are wired to ignore things like climate change:
If our brains are wired to ignore climate change, what can we do about it? Do we need to rewire our brains?