- Published: 25 December 2016 25 December 2016
In this serialised interview with co-founder of the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), Adrian Tait, we explore different aspects of the psychology that has become a key theme in discussions around how we cope with climate change information and also how we disseminate that information.
The conversation with Adrian covers a lot of ground and where appropriate he cross-references the work of his colleagues where their expertise is most relevant. This interview was conducted in September 2016, notably prior to the outcome of the US election result that has the real potential to set back efforts to reduce carbon emissions and avert environmental collapse.
As many political and economic commentators are saying, the transition to a clean energy economy has begun and market forces are gathering momentum. It is no longer a question of “if” but “how fast” we can change our energy consumption. The pace must accelerate if we are to stop the heating of the planet that poses an existential risk to us all.
In this light the election of Donald Trump creates considerable anxiety, as his stated ambitions are to reverse the direction of energy transition and international agreements. Although Trump’s win was not anticipated in this interview, the theme of despair is discussed and an attempt to seed the openings of a discussion that deals with coping and moving forward are planted.
One of the reasons that I was very keen to learn more about the work of the CPA is that in my previous meetings and interviews with climate scientists, and others involved in actively confronting the environmental crisis, conversations often highlight the need to communicate with the public at large.
Despite this need the mainstream media consistently fails to speak up on this issue and even when it does, the articles are generally so politicised that the name of the publication itself can exclude vast numbers of the public that need to be reached.
The outcome here is that the media forms what Adrian refers to in the 3rd chapter as “echo chambers”. This is where one media outlet repeats the same themed messages to a set of readers whose alarm is exacerbated but despite sharing on their social media feeds, is seldom accepted by those of differing political persuasions. The same is conversely true where journalists who downplay climate risk, or even deny it exists, have their own echo chambers that are often formed along political lines.
The need to understand how to depoliticise these issues away from their previous framing has never been greater. Many would consider it naive to think that climate change communications can be depoliticised at all. What the CPA interview highlights is that when delve into the “maze of complex human & cultural reactions” to the problem, we have a lot of unpicking to do before we can start reconstructing our world view, as well as our individual and collective purpose in life.
01 - Introduction - Adrian Tait provides some background to the CPA, structure and raison d’être
02 - The “oh shit!” moment; coping with despair, cognitive dissonance and “disavowal”
03 - “The information deficit fallacy”; how more scientific facts do not always create desired change, entering “the maze of complex human & cultural reactions” to the climate problem; the importance of language and listening
04 - Gender in climate change; communication and can women teach men about connectedness to nature? Living in an illusion that the human economy (as opposed to natural ecology) is the ultimate reality