Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why We Ignore Climate Change

Much is currently being written about the communication gap that exists between scientists and ordinary Americans regarding climate change. Most of what is being offered neglects an attempt to explain why such a disconcerting gap exists, and why climate change is being ignored by the average citizen. Science tends to be primarily descriptive; giving us facts about how the world works. The scientific descriptions of climate change are downright scary, and inspire primitive human reactions powered by negative emotions, such as fear. Negative emotions have particular relevance to our sense of survival – when we feel fear, we look for a way to escape. Therein lays the problem with science, using the media as an outlet, in communicating its message about climate change to the public. We hear the message loud and clear. But we do not like it. It summons up our negative emotions of fear, guilt, shame, and anger. We avoid these emotions at all costs and, as a result, convince ourselves that climate change is a hoax.

What science (and the media) needs to do is refocus its message to better communicate the potential positives that behavioral change toward greater Earth stewardship can create. There is an abundance of scientific knowledge showing that the so-called “sacrifices” necessary for sustainable living – such as reducing consumption levels and driving less - actually improve our well-being. Even better, this improvement in well-being, powered by positive emotions, broadens our perspective (negative emotions necessarily narrow our focus) and allows us to identify creative and effective solutions to climate change challenges. Fortunately, despite the message from science that environmental collapse is imminent, average Americans are making positive lifestyle changes that are friendly to climate change, and discovering that these changes are improving their communities, health, and well-being.

Messages from science that are scary sell. But it is the good things about the human spirit that science and the media need to communicate better. Scare tactics will not inspire us to overcome this crisis. Identifying and communicating what is best within us will allow us to first, admit that human-caused climate change is real, and second, change our lifestyles to improve the environment and our life satisfaction at the same time. Could there be a more important message to communicate?

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