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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: North Island Bantam Eagles are ready for playoffs

The bantams will be playing their first two playoff games in Port McNeill this weekend.

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: The top of Mt. Wolfenden

“A few shots at different focal lengths and then I was back inside editing with a coffee in hand”

Check out a new future at career and education fair in Comox

Event today features booths from more than 40 employers and educational institutions

Book reading: The Blue Haired Girl

Adam Hayes will be at the Book Nook (inside Cafe Guido) Feb. 1 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Veteran Island journalist battles cancer through pioneering treatment

Vancouver Island rallies around JR Rardon and family during stay in Seattle

VIDEO: Mass coronavirus quarantines seen in China won’t happen in Canada, authorities say

‘If a case comes here, and it is probably … it will still be business as normal’

Province’s oldest practising lawyer shares advice at her 100th birthday party

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Owner surrenders dog suffering from days-old gunshot wound to B.C. SPCA

The dog was also found to be emaciated and suffering from a flea infestation

B.C. man dies after police called for ‘firearms injury’ in rural Alberta

Victim is 30-year-old Greater Victoria man, say police

Most Read