Doing what’s easy and attractive

 

I watched the climate change episode of the new Cosmos series with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and was surprised that he named “greed” as the main reason for the problems we are facing.

That may be a small part of it. But it’s not the main part, and it’s also not a helpful orientation if we want a change. We have tried shaming and blaming, and it doesn’t work very well.

To me, it’s mainly structural. And it’s also about identity.

We have an economical system  that’s not aligned with ecological realities. It’s created as if there is unlimited natural resources, and unlimited capacity to absorb waste and toxins. And the same goes for how we have organized ourselves in terms of transportation, energy, waste, politics, education, and more. None of these systems have been designed with ecological realities in mind.

And there is a good reason why: they didn’t need to. When they were designed, or when they evolved into what we have today, ecological concerns were peripheral at best. Other concerns were far more salient and important. Ecology wasn’t important, since we didn’t have the technology to wreak the kind of havoc we can today, and we also didn’t have the numbers to make it add up the way it does today. Our current systems were designed in a very different situation than we have today, and they are outdated, and have been for a while now.

These systems were designed, unintentionally, so that what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals, corporations, and societies – often happens to be what’s destructive for the living systems we are part of, and depend on for our well beings and lives. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it is right now. More and more people are waking up to this.

And we cannot fix it by patching here and there. We need to redesign these systems at a very basic level. We need to redesign them so that what’s easy and attractive to do, is what’s most supportive – or even restorative – for the Earth’s living systems, for ourselves and our families, for the global society, for non-human species, and for future generations.

We know quite a few solutions. One is to tax what we don’t want, and subsidize what we want more of. Another is to set product prices so they reflect an approximation of the real ecological, health, and human costs of the product.

This is also about identity.

If we see ourselves as an integral part of the Earth’s living systems, we are more likely to be concerned with this and support the solutions.

And if we are faced with (a) reasons to support these changes that fit into our existing values and identity, and (b) solutions that do the same, we are also much more likely to see this as important, and actively support it – through voting and how we live our lives.

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Conservative identity, climate change, and framing

 

Conservatives who reject the science of climate change aren’t necessarily reacting to the science, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University. They’re reacting to the fact that they don’t like proposed solutions more strongly identified with liberals.

– from Conservatives Don’t Hate Climate Change, They Hate The Proposed Solutions: Study in Huffington Post

There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

– from Denying Problems When We Don’t Like The Solutions, Duke University

This can be understood through the lens of identity. Conservatives assume that the solutions to climate change don’t fit with their conservative identity, so they deny the problem even exists.

My uncle is a good example. He deeply loved nature and even taught biology at the university. At the same time, he deeply despised hippies and environmentalists. So he would take a position against sustainability and anything else he associated with dirty hippies and dangerously naive environmentalists. This included the reality and importance of climate change. It’s possible that the thought of agreeing with dirty hippies was too much for him, even if he loved nature and was an environmentalist at heart.

How can we use this understanding? For instance, how can  we frame the topic so it’s less threatening to the conservative identity, or so it fits well into and is attractive to the conservative identity?

Here are some ideas for framing and communication:

Highlight reasons for supporting sustainability that match conservative values and identity. It allows us to maintain our society and traditions. It’s good for business. (Opens for new business opportunities.) It’s good for our families and children, and their children. We take care of God’s creation. We are better stewards of God’s creation. 

Highlight solutions that fit into conservative values and identity. (See that there are solutions that are non-threatening, or even attractive, from a conservative view.) Reduce taxes on sustainable technology, products and energy. Subsidize businesses that move strongly in a sustainable direction, in how they operate and the services and products they offer. Emphasize business opportunities. Support innovation in sustainable products and services.

Highlight conservative business and political leaders who (a) acknowledge the need for sustainability, (b) support sustainability, and (c) embrace solutions to sustainability that fits into the conservative values and identity. (See that it’s possible.)

 And some research ideas:

Divide up in two, three or four conservative groups: cultural conservatives, old fashioned business conservatives, free-market liberals, libertarians.

Offer differently framed messages, and see if how they respond.

Different messages: (a) Connect it with traditional environmentalists and their message. (This would be a control group of sorts, and is likely to get an averse reaction from many.) (b) Highlight how it fits conservative values. (c) Highlight solutions that fit conservative values. (d) Highlight conservatives who actively support sustainability. (e) Combine b-d. (f) Possibly target the different types of conservatives within b-d.

The control group would receive an unrelated message before answering these questions. The other groups would receive the messages outlined above.

Outcomes: How important they see sustainability. If they see sustainability as desirable and supportive of families, communities, and business. Their support of solutions aligned with their values. How important it is that the solutions and approaches align with their (conservative) values.

Do preliminary studies and interviews to (a) identify types of conservatives, and (b) which types of messages seem to resonate the most for each of these types.

The message can be written, or audio or video.

It’s important to note that this is coming from an honest place. By framing the message so it fits conservative values and identities, it’s just made available to another group of people. They get to see that sustainability very well can fit their values. And, possibly, that it’s something they can support more wholeheartedly through voting, words and actions.

Note: What are the values of a green conservative? It will depend on the type of conservative, and there are probably books on the topic, and groups out there who define as green conservatives. And, of course, as with any greens, there are light (small steps) and deep (deep restructuring) variations, and also green-washing (sustainability in name only).

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Climate change

 

When it comes to climate change, it’s interesting how the public discourse has been derailed, and especially in the US.

It’s been derailed in a couple of different ways. First, through confusion about the science. And then, through framing it in terms of cost.

To me, another approach makes much more sense:

We need to align with ecological realities anyway, climate change or no climate change. We need to restructure our systems – in economy, production, energy, food, transportation and more – so they reflect ecological realities. And the sooner we do it, the easier the transition will be, and the less it will cost us. (Waiting costs us in terms of health, quality of life, natural disasters, ecological degradation.)

And this is an amazing opportunity. It will fuel innovation and new industries on a scale rivaling and surpassing the industrial revolution. The green revolution is an opportunity for us to intentionally redesign how we organize ourselves at all levels and in all sectors of society, in a way that improves quality of life, benefits our health, is deeply democratic, requires creativity and innovation, and fuels technology and industry. We have an opportunity to redesign our systems so that what’s easy and attractive to do for individuals and corporations is also what’s good for the larger social and ecological systems, nonhuman species, and future generations.

Why has the public discourse been derailed? There may be several reasons.

The petroleum industry is intentionally muddling the water. One example is paying scientists from non-climate fields to pose as climate experts.

The topics may appear as a threat to those with a strong free-market ideology. They fear, perhaps rightly so, that the necessary changes will require strong political leadership and public institutions.

The topic may trigger anti-authoritarian or anti-elitist responses.

More generally, the topic doesn’t fit some people’s identity. They associate it with earlier generation environmentalists and hippies, and they don’t want to be like them.

There is a general misperception in several areas. There is a perception of….. (a) Disagreement among scientists, where in reality 99% agree it’s happening, it’s human caused, and the sooner we do something the better. (b) There being more climate deniers than there actually is. The reality is typically 8-5% or less. (c) It costing us and being a drawback, instead of an amazing and unique opportunity.

The topic may seem distant. It may seem overwhelming. It may trigger fear and guilt.

For me, climate change has been two things since I first heard about it. (a) A focal point for the changes we need to make anyway, for those concerned with climate change. And (b) an irrelevant distraction since we need to make the changes anyway. Which one I emphasize depends on the situation and audience.

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