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