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Climate psychology

From the NY Times, Gray Matter: “We’re all climate change idiots”

“CLIMATE CHANGE is staring us in the face. The science is clear, and the need to reduce planet-warming emissions has grown urgent. So why, collectively, are we doing so little about it?

“Yes, there are political and economic barriers, as well as some strong ideological opposition, to going green. But researchers in the burgeoning field of climate psychology have identified another obstacle, one rooted in the very ways our brains work. The mental habits that help us navigate the local, practical demands of day-to-day life, they say, make it difficult to engage with the more abstract, global dangers posed by climate change.

Robert Gifford, a psychologist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who studies the behavioral barriers to combating climate change, calls these habits of mind “dragons of inaction.” We have trouble imagining a future drastically different from the present. We block out complex problems that lack simple solutions. We dislike delayed benefits and so are reluctant to sacrifice today for future gains. And we find it harder to confront problems that creep up on us than emergencies that hit quickly.

“You almost couldn’t design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.”

– Beth Gardiner

(continued at the New York Times website)


Leehi Yona, Dartmouth student, Canadian, and determined environmental activist, spoke on a panel on climate change in the Arctic. Leehi gave an impassioned call to action, giving voice to the concerns of Arctic youth around the world. See Leehi’s speech here in three parts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

After a disturbing presentation on Arctic environmental degradation by AMAP, other panelists echoed the need for action. Danish minister Martin Lidegaard urged individuals to act at home, saying, “we need to close the gap… need to get a mandate at home.” Samantha Smith called for the Arctic Council to step up, while Jens B. Frederiksen of Greenland noted that the effects of Arctic changes are global; “everybody in this world is a victim.”

Peter Kent did not make his expected appearance on the panel, a point of particular frustration to panelists and audience members, as he will be the next chair of the Council, has been promoting the Tar Sands project, has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, and has been unreceptive to youth participation and demands.

Leehi also reminded us that, “for a lot of these communities all of their lifestyle revolves around nature,” noting that “when you have changes that are happening so rapidly,” simple adaptation will not be sufficient and cannot move fast enough to keep up with environmental changes.


Baggage claim

Over the last 24 hours, as Sam, Sophie and I made our way blearily through airport security checkpoints, negotiations continued into overtime at the UNFCCC conference. In the meantime, courtesy of Pitchfork:

“I grew up with bands like Beck and Sonic Youth and Nirvana— it was cool to not care. But we live in a time period where you have to give a fuck. If we just allow the destruction of our lifestyles, our habits, our cultures, our movements, our environments, our relationships to other cultures— it’s going to be a time of dark ages. How are we going to stop that if we shrug our shoulders? That is insane to me. But I’m not going to be like, ‘Hey, global governments and CEOs, end your love of greed and embrace the warmth of love.’ They’d be like, ‘OK, smoke some more weed you fucking hippie.’”

– Dan Deacon

Many climate justice advocates in Doha expressed that only intense political pressure will force meaningful action by the governments who are refusing to limit emissions responsibly. Some might call this type of pressure a social movement.  What would that look like? How could it be seen as less marginal than radical protest, but more sincere than “shopping green”? No one is sure, but there is little question that without such a movement, our negotiators will continue to fight for the political agenda we set with our consumption choices, rather than for our collective sense of justice.


I’ve spent two of the last few days schmoozing with businessmen and a few women at some very plush events: the World Climate Summit at the Ritz-Carlton, and the International Emissions Trading Association meeting in the Diplomatic Club. Both events focused heavily on the role of business in climate change, the focus of our research here with Professor Dorsey, and have included a variety of panels and plenaries on Green Business issues and initiatives, as well as quite a variety of canapés.

Discussions have ranged across the board of climate finance, from how to finance and run the GCF and how to encourage partnerships between the public and private sectors to debates over the carbon market. Strong themes and repeated phrases have emerged, but it all seems so far removed from reality. Sitting in business clothes at a hotel with beautiful views of the Persian Gulf and luxury accommodations, there was a strong divorce from the realities of what is happening right now in the world because of climate change and what is truly at stake.

With panel sponsorship from Shell, Siemens, and other big businesses, the influence of oil and gas lobbyists in this entire COP is truly disturbing. In addition, bottled water is everywhere at the COP. How can we hope to achieve a sustainable future when a simple change from bottled water to pitchers and glasses has yet to be made?

To my right during a Shell-sponsored panel on “’Building the Blocks:’ Creating a Future Global Policy Architecture for Emissions Trading,” my neighbor was checking oil and gas prices online. Meanwhile, news was just coming in on the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Bopha, evidence of the imminent dangers and effects of climate change. What will it take to connect the rhetoric to actual action? What exactly are we doing here?


Take the Wesleyan Sustainability Pledge:

“Hi All,

As part of the activities of the Environmental Advocacy Strategies that Work seminar this semester students have created a Holiday Sustainability Pledge on Facebook.  You can access the pledge here.

Please consider taking the pledge and inviting everyone that you know.  It would be pretty exciting if a pledge started at Wesleyan went viral and helped everyone keep environmental responsibility in mind over the holidays.

 Best regards,

Mary Alice

(Thanks to Valerie Marinelli of the College of the Environment for notifying us.)

Like we’ve been saying, you CAN make a difference. Take the chance and do it. 


From Dawn to Dusk

It’s hard to believe that Doha can go from a plain looking city in the day time to one of the most beautifully lit cities I’ve ever seen.


 A forum, lead by an American delegate, is planned for today to discuss the phenomenon of Climate Change Denial.

image of British climate change skeptic Lord Monckton courtesy of Leehiinternet weirdness expert

Climate Change skeptics exist everywhere, even  – in small numbers – at the UNFCCC. They vigorously criticize evidence that suggests global warming is man-made.

We should always challenge ourselves to understand the entirety of a subject such as climate. I think understanding and examining the phenomenon of climate change denial could be beneficial. I find myself asking questions about where these ‘skeptics’ find sources of evidence to deny that global warming is man-made. I also find myself asking whether governments that claim to actively support measures to combat climate change are only doing so to maintain a positive image and relations with other countries. This inherent skepticism could cause inaction and inability to cooperate that we are seeing at the COP.

‘Ignorance of science is one blockade to effective action on the human predica- ment. But corporate-financed disinformation campaigns, such as those claiming that climate disruption is a hoax, are equally important.

Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University

(shout out to my CSS buds and our sophomore econ tutorial)

Climate change can be solved but only if we face the reality of the climate crisis. If we have more scientists, students, activists, and the general public demanding action to address the crisis, then maybe we’ll see less people shying away from the fact that global warming exists and climate change is a threat.


From “Letter to Ministers and Negotiators Who Care About People and the Climate”:

In the final days of Doha, the world is deciding what type of international climate controls and finance will be in place from now until 2020. If the ‘Doha deal’ will set us on a track to exceed 1.5°C, if it ensures a decade of locked-in inaction, the people say: NO!

All governments, rich and poor, must stand by these red lines…

This concise call to action was put into circulation today by “CSOs, NGOs, farmers; organizations, faith-based organizations, youth, IPs, and other groups present here at COP 18.”

(link via Tetet Lauron of IBON International and the Climate Justice Now! listserv)

A brief conversation

This morning, Sophie and I had a short exchange with a senior diplomat about the progress of the negotiations. “Things are not going so well,” the official told us.

The source referred to “a change of heart” on the part of many countries in the aftermath of the global economic crisis in respect to mitigation commitments. “After Durban, you could sense it. The world has changed… [the negotiations are] just lip service. There are so many lobbying groups, pressure groups, working against the process.”

The diplomat believes that it is highly unlikely that the central agreement under the Durban platform – the enactment of an internationally binding treaty to fight climate change by 2020 – will come to fruition by that date.

We wished the official luck as we parted ways. “You too,” we were told. “You are going to need it.”

– Chloe

Heroism at the COP

The youth are at it again, bright and early. 

Take a look here to see why the GCF is a hot topic in the negotiations.

Delegates, CAN you be our heroes?


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