Optimism, obedience, and other motivations to respond to climate change

A conversation with a friend made it clear that our motivations to act on climate change differ. She acts from optimism: she changes her behavior, and talks to others about changing theirs, because she is optimistic that this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions a lot. She is looking for legislation that she and others can champion, hoping that within 5 years, the US will enact good legislation.

My joy comes not from optimism, but obedience. I believe climate change is important, so I want to live that understanding in my personal choices. I understand policy change to be more important than individual behavioral choices, so I study policy and advocate for better policies. I hear that we cannot agree even on the need for taxes for adequate road maintenance in today’s political environment, so I did the 40 days in the wilderness bit, reading social scientists for 3 years, and now focus on why we don’t listen, why the facts don’t seem to matter, eg, here. I am optimistic that there will be a tad less climate change if I am obedient, but I suppose that I would do the work even if there were little chance of this being true.

There are other motivations. Competition motivated dramatic energy reductions in some Kansas towns.

So does a desire to do what others are doing: when asked to find ways to reduce energy use because it saves money, saves the environment, is a good thing to do, or your neighbors are doing it, only the last gets good results. Six percent changed their behavior after a sign was posted in a gym asking people to turn off the shower while soaping up; this rises to half if there is an accomplice who turns off his, and 2/3 if there are two. Etc.

Actions to allay anxiety are often ineffective. Columbia’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions describes the Single Action Bias:

In response to uncertain and risky situations, humans have a tendency to focus and simplify their decision making. Individuals responding to a threat are likely to rely on one action, even when it provides only incremental protection or risk reduction and may not be the most effective option. People often take no further action, presumably because the first one succeeded in reducing their feeling of worry or vulnerability. This phenomenon is called the single action bias.

What motivates you? and others?

5 Responses to “Optimism, obedience, and other motivations to respond to climate change”

  1. I read with interest this article and the one you referred to mid-article, (underlined HERE) on the frustrations of trying to share your concerns. I admire your efforts – it is not an easy task.

    Your articles and the challenge to post on them, made me sit in silence for awhile.

    Here are a few thoughts: Concerning a presentation: People do not hear well when their mouth is full of words. Therefore the first task would be to listen carefully and respectfully to climate change-deniers, to write their points on a board for all to see, elicit more info from them – “Is there anything else you would like me to know?” Maybe the title of this list is “My hopes and fears about the climate-change issue”. Then I would create a second list by the other side (second, because I think they can probably hold their tongue a bit longer – a biased thought!)

    I recalled reading in the past about trained facilitators who called together people for and and against abortions, and other similar facilitators who worked to heal pain between races. What I recall about those groups was that they had highly trained facilitators, met for several/many sessions, started with common concerns and interest, were small enough for everyone to get to know each other. And were quite effective. (See book by Osha Gray Davidson, The Best of Enemies, for one such story related to integration of schools in the south.)

    I think climate change, even more than the above issues, moves from fact-based to emotion-based, fairly quickly. And that very few people are willing to/ able to look at the situation rationally. If you are talking with anyone who might be able to, a science teacher, Greg Craven, has written a powerful book on what science is and is not, how one needs to counteract one’s tendency to bias, and how one could set up a credibility scale to measure the validity of various voices re climate-change. Greg Craven, What’s The Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response the Climate Change Debate. He also posted a YouTube presentation which went viral, collected and responded to the over 1000 disagreeing posts. See http://www.manpollo.org

    And why am I not out talking with groups? Climate change deniers have the fear that many of the advances of civilization are going to be thrown away over a hoax, that the main push behind this hoax are people ready to set up a world government and bring in government control, that everyone will need to live in tents with no electricity, and probably some fear that the scientists may be right. And me – I can barely stand my own fear that the world will be significantly worse, in my lifetime for children I already know, and thousands I do not know. To listen to the depth of disbelief of the climate-change deniers, only increases my fear that nothing of importance will be done in time. I have not found the inner resources yet, to rise above my intense discomfort and bring a peaceful presence to a discussion of the problem.

  2. Gretchen Reinhardt says:

    I’d like to think that I operate from obedience (I am sure I don’t feel especially optimistic that my actions will make much of a difference to the world my children inherit), but I’m still struggling to discern my own leading in this area. I think at this point I am attempting to better understand the nature of the discomfort that arises from living as I live, and find actions which reduce my level of discomfort. I’m looking for a way to live with integrity, to align my understanding with my actions. I’m looking for a way to avoid being part of the problem (haven’t found a way), and to instead be part of the solution (even less in reach).

  3. How does being a Quaker influence my communications around climate change?

    I am also a retired college teacher who has taught communication and given a number of workshops, most recently around Nonviolent Communication issues. (Marshall Rosenberg http://www.cnvc.org )

    Here are some ideas that I take to be saying the same thing:
    Quakers – there is that of God in every person and we are called to speak to that of God in everyone
    Maslow – our basic core motivator is a hunger for self-actualization which includes service to others
    Ken Keyes – “Behind all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we always have beneficial positive intentions (even though we may sometimes use unskillful ways to achieve them.)”

    When I can hold that awareness and see the honorable intention at the core of every person’s every action, I have had many amazing connections across major differences. When we connect at that level, we can work together to solve problems. Do I hold that center regularly? No. Then I get into “I am right, you are wrong/stupid/stubborn/greedy” discussions that I think add to the problem instead of contributing to building bridges. I frequently get really overwhelmed by my fear around climate change and the best I can offer is my silence.

    Social science offers that most of our views on political issues are emotion-based, not logic-based, and therefore arguing logic with someone is generally a waste of time. We all literally process ideas we perceive as Republican or Democrat based in different parts of our brain.

  4. What motivates my actions?

    I aspire to be open to leadings and I aspire to let go of my attachment to the fruits of my labors. When I am centered, I recall that how I live each day is my responsibility, not whether my actions will make THE difference/ANY difference, concerning climate change. I would not call this optimism or pessimism. Sometimes I feel hopeful that we will create another way of being together; other times, I am not very hopeful. Then I do my small actions with fear and pain in my heart as I imagine a greatly diminished quality of living for the upcoming generations in future days.

    Greg Craven, a science teacher who has written the most helpful book I know on climate change, advocates for “Rosie-ism” after Rosie the Riveter, to roll up one’s sleeves and get busy with neither optimism or pessimism. He also suggests several potentially helpful tactics in influencing others. I highly recommend his book (as does Bill McKibben, General Anthony Zinni, and others). What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate.

  5. Karen Street says:

    Gretchen and Bonnie, thanks for your answers. And I want to second Greg Craven’s What’s the Worst that Could Happen? He talks about the issues and how we talk about the issues.