A giant piece of ice breaks off the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia Argentina. Environmental Psychologists are working on ways to present climate change science in more effective ways. (Black Press File)

Slaying dragons: getting inside the minds of climate change skeptics

Environmental psychologist explains Dragons of Inaction

With the 22nd case of measles reported in B.C., people are asking why a portion of the population rejects scientific evidence and instead embraces causes like Antivax, Flat Earth and climate change denial.

Professor Robert Gifford, an environmental psychologist from the University of Victoria and an expert on barriers to sustainable behaviour has some insights regarding climate change denial.

ALSO READ: Scientists warn warmer and more acidic oceans threaten marine life

“I developed the term Dragons of Inaction,” he says, adding, “There are 37 now. You could call them Psychological barriers, obstacles, even excuses or justifications.”

He says these Dragons symbolize the destructive power of inaction. The top four are “government, social inequity, conflicting goals and aspirations (CGA), and an individual’s lack of perceived power.” Roughly translated as “It’s the government’s job not my job. Why should I do something when they aren’t? I would help but…, and I’m only one person, I don’t have the power to help.”

Gifford does acknowledge that climate change is inconvenient and people are busy, with important personal goals, but says they can sometimes be used as excuses.

A further dimension to denial lies in two psychological concepts of temporal and spatial discounting – If something is not directly experienced and happening now, it’s easy to disregard and think it won’t ever happen.

“Temporal discounting, it’s like when government says something will happen in 2050, it’s easy to just tune out and spatial discounting is ‘Oh yeah they’re having problems in Africa but I don’t see anything in Sidney here.’ We have to help people see that the changes are happening, here and now.”

Not all climate change deniers are closed minded, so why can’t scientists just show them the facts?

“It’s a failure of the Information Deficit model, which is the thought that if we tell people the facts they will change, but we have whole piles of evidence that show you can give people all the information and it won’t change their behaviour.”

Psychological literature suggests people like to be consistent and if they reach an early conclusion they are often reluctant to change their minds and instead seek snippets of proof to reinforce their beliefs.

Self image is said to be another factor, with older people who saw Canada boom on the backs of their hard work and exploitation of natural resources, associating climate change as criticism of their life’s work or even themselves.

ALSO READ: Vancouver Island overdue for the big one, can also expect mega-thrust tsunami

“People like to believe their efforts in life were positive,” notes Gifford.

Environmental psychologists are making efforts to help change people’s behaviour in constructive, non-belittling ways, like developing 20 different types of paired messages, such as global vs local and sacrifice vs empowerment.

“If you tell people climate change is here and we need to sacrifice, they are less willing to change, but if you tell them climate change is here but they can be a block leader/hero/helper they are more likely to do something positive,” explains Gifford.

“If people can see that this is a human problem, caused by humans and it will have to be humans who solve it, and not just governments, scientists and engineers, that we all have to contribute and pitch in together, that will help.”



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

‘Finding Solitude’ film premieres in Tofino and Ucluelet

“This film is about protecting our lands.”

School District 70 proposes new school names, asks for public feedback

Board of education suggests new names for the district and two of its schools

Washout brings delays to drivers heading in and out of Tofino-Ucluelet

West Coast commuters are facing delays Tuesday morning.

Ucluelet’s Royal Marine Search and Rescue team seeking new recruits

“We’re on call for anything and everything on the water.”

Five rescued after boat crashes between Tofino and Ahousaht

“Ahousaht has always been a willing participant to save anyone who is in distress in our territory.”

B.C. politicians view supermodel’s transition journey on Transgender Day

Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite and New Democrat MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert appear in the documentary

Infants more vulnerable to measles than previously thought: Canadian study

Babies typically don’t receive the measles vaccine until they are 12 months old

Shatner, Obomsawin among 39 inductees to Order of Canada today

Shatner is being given one of Canada’s highest civilian honours for his 60-year career

John Mann, singer and songwriter of group Spirit of the West dead at 57

Mann died peacefully in Vancouver on Wednesday from early onset Alzheimer’s

Teacher tells B.C. Supreme Court that student was ‘happy’ to watch smudging ceremony in classroom

Case being heard in Nanaimo over indigenous cultural practice in Port Alberni classroom

VIDEO: B.C. high school’s turf closed indefinitely as plastic blades pollute waterway

Greater Victoria resident stumbles on plastic contamination from Oak Bay High

B.C. mayor urges premier to tweak road speeds in an ‘epidemic of road crash fatalities’

Haynes cites ICBC and provincial documents in letter to John Horgan

Four arrested after report of shots fired in Nanaimo

RCMP arrest four suspects in high-risk takedown in Cedar

South Cariboo driver hits four cows due to fog

The RCMP’s investigation is ongoing

Most Read