Thursday, December 22, 2011

If You Want to Fight Climate Change (and Harper) Get Loud About It

An interesting piece from suggests that getting action on climate change is a noisy business.  The trick, it claims, is to be outspoken and brutally honest about what's happening and what's coming because that's the only way to reach the magic, 10 per cent threshold

"...there's a whole cottage industry devoted to urging climate hawks not to talk like this. What good can it do? Terrifying people just elicits all sorts of defense mechanisms -- denial, disengagement, apathy, system justification, what have you. The forces at work are so colossal, so utterly out of scale with what any individual or group can hope to tackle, that the logical conclusion seems to be, "we're f*cked." Our overwhelming instinct is to ... change the subject.

When people are confronted with a message of fear and crisis that sounds apocalyptic and outside the bounds of the status quo, they don't like it! And that's what they tell pollsters and survey takers. Lots of folks have concluded from this that they should avoid the language of fear and crisis.

...what's relevant is not merely how people react to an out-of-bounds message-of-alarm (I need a handy word for that) at a given point, but how such messages become accepted (or don't) over time. We need to look to more longitudinal studies, historical and anthropological studies, to understand the temporal dynamics of public opinion.

...what matters is not how such messages are received in isolation, but what role they can play in a larger communications strategy.

 Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute did a study on this recently -- "Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities" -- that attempted to determine "the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion." 

"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. "Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. "In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks."

In other words, if we're to have any chance of forcing meaningful climate change action from our government, we need to break through that 10% threshold.   Who knows how close we may be already?  All we need to realize is that it's worth turning off a great many people so long as we can reach and energize enough to get past that threshold.

So make yourself heard.   Be clear.  Be blunt.  Don't be intimidated by those who'll call you alarmist for merely stating fact and science.  There's nothing alarmist in yelling "fire" when you see smoke pouring out the windows.   This is not an economic issue.   It's not a political issue.   It's a scientific issue.  The science is in and more keeps flowing in week by week.   There is a scientific consensus and it's overwhelming.   Those who refuse to inform their opinion deserve to be called out and rejected.


Anyong said...

How difficult was it to convince the German people Hitler was a monster? We are faced with the same attitude of big business when it comes to the environment...that attitude? "We know best" and in a way, it does have to do with economics in their minds. The attitude of many people when the environment is mentioned, is one of ostracization or to be more exact, a form of bullying. It is most difficult to do when there isn't anyone around with the same opinion or if they do have, won't speak up....most difficult especially if one happens to be a woman. Merry Christmas

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, I fully understand the apparent enormity of changing the attitudes of others, of overcoming indifference, fears and doubt. I also understand the enormous forces at work to maintain the status quo.

But when the challenge seems impossible, almost pointless, it's important to remember that we may actually be closer to that 10% threshold than we ever imagined.

That's what became apparent in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and they were dealing with tyrants, not just corporate juggernauts. Yet when they hit their threshold, their idea of liberty "spread like flame."

Also bear in mind that the idea we need to take hold - that global warming is real, that the threat is dire and that time is running out for action - is becoming more obvious by the day. It's also decidedly intuitive. It is rooted in our human instinct for survival.

Lastly, never forget that we as a society will get to this point of awareness eventually. The critical challenge is to get there in time.

Merry Christmas.

LMA said...

We've got three years to get rid of Harper and replace him with a climate hawk (Mulcair or McGuinty?). We've got the wind in our sails with U.S. outrage over Keystone XL, First Nations united against Northern Gateway, the Europeans hopefully boycotting Tar Sands oil, and some corporations beginning to turn away from dirty oil. Maybe just maybe we can slow down the expansion of the Tar Sands. If there ever was a time to get noisy and brutal, it is now. Counting on you to keep fighting, MoS.

Happy holidays and all the best for the coming year.