Tag Archives: George Marshall

Finding a Narrative for Climate Change

One of the hottest political topics in the UK at the minute is the cost to heat a house. Each sequential price hike by the Big Six Energy Suppliers in the UK has been met by claim and counter claim over who to blame. Within the debate, both renewables and green taxes have been pilloried by the right for forcing the poor in general, and pensioners in particular, into fuel poverty.

The left, meanwhile, has been noticeable for its silence in defending the ‘green agenda’. A low carbon policy was originally introduced and supported by all three main parties (from left to right) to mitigate climate change, but almost no-one (there are few brave exceptions) wants to champion this cause any more for fear of having the blood of frozen pensioners on their hands.

George Marshall, the insightful author of the Climate Change Denial blog, has a great post looking at the psychology of the debate. The debate, to him, has unfortunately been fitted into the standard narrative, which looks like this:

1.       Enemy + Intention → Harm to victims

2.      Hero + Intention     →  Defeats enemy and restores status quo

The left narrative has been this:

1.       Enemy (Big Business) + intention (self enrichment) → harm (high energy costs) to victims (vulnerable fuel poor)

2.      Hero (Labour party) + intention (social justice) → defeat (price freeze) and restores status quo (standard of living)

Meanwhile, the editorials of the right-wing press give us this:

1. Enemy (Environmental extremism) + intention (ideological zealotry) → harm (green taxes/suffering) to victims (vulnerable)

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Climate Change: I Didn’t Do It My Way

When new acquaintances learn of my interest in climate change, most try to change the subject; but when they learn that I used to be very active in financial markets, they often become engaged in the conversation and ask  questions on economics or investment. Why should the reaction be so different?

For such people, the logic with respect to financial markets appears to go something like this: “I have no idea if this guy is full of bullshit or not, but he seems to know something about investment so let’s find out what he has to say.” But for global warming I find the following reaction: “I have no idea if this guy is full of bullshit or not, but he seems to know something about climate change so let’s find a way to change the conversation because it is making me feel uncomfortable.”

I have always been fascinated about the psychology behind financial markets, a field of study that was given the economics profession seal of approval when Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2002 (for the best business/economics book of 2012 read his Thinking Fast and Slow). Psychology helps explain why individuals, or groups of individuals, frequently act in certain ways that is different from the profit-maximising model underpinning neo-classical economics.

Similarly, my suspicion has been that psychology lies behind the reason why climate change has failed to engage the general public, even though they should be engaged for reasons of self-interest if nothing else.

The other day I stumbled across the blog of George Marshall, the founder of the charity Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN) who has been developing the same line of thinking for far longer than myself. The introduction to his blog contains a question:

This blog explores the topic of the psychology of climate change denial – with observations and anecdotes about our weird and disturbed response to the problem. It seeks to answer a question that has puzzled me for years: why, when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?

I encourage you to go through some of Marshall’s posts. They are not only insightful in trying to understand the apathy, indifference and denial that surrounds climate change but also sympathetic to the soft denialists (the vast majority of the population).

I will just pick up one theme that runs through the blog: narrative. Continue reading