Wanna see my spaceship? How to communicate with climate change deniers

Ever wondered how to communicate with climate change deniers. In the previous post, I explained WHY there are still climate change deniers out there. Now I’m giving you hands-on advice, on how to break the neurological stubbornness — and yes, there’s a spaceship.

 

If you work in the environmental field, you will encounter several different personas.

One of them is the denier. He denies the logic of whatever argument you make.

 

I have worked with recycling for some years now, and the denier personae has some telling characteristics.

I’m gonna break down what that denial looks like, shed light on the actual meaning behind his words, and give you the communication tools to get your message out there. Most importantly, you won’t come off as a personal threat.

A conversation with the denier might go something like the following. For the sake of the example, I’m going to give my denier a name.

Meet Dave! He’s attending a talk I’m giving, about the importance of recycling.

 

Communicate with climate change deniers_ Dave

Our “Dave”

Me: Sorting your waste is really good for the environment.

Dave: Hah! Once the garbage trucks pick up the waste, they’re just going to put it all in the same container anyway.

Me: No, the garbage trucks don’t mix the waste. It is kept separated and brought to a processing plant.

Dave: I don’t believe you. They’re just going to mix it.

 

 

Understanding the underlying emotions

Timeout. Let’s look at the interaction. I’m giving Dave some information, and he’s refuting it.

At first glans it may look like Dave just has the wrong information, or that he’s an arrogant twat. He’s basically saying that he knows more about the waste industry than I do. I am the person working with waste after all, and Dave thinks he knows better than me.

If I didn’t know why Dave is acting like this, it might be a frustrating situation, where I leave the room feeling like I’m wasting my time on stubborn, old Dave.

But if we dissect the situation, and look at the emotional conversation of what Dave “hears”, and “says”,  here’s the actual interaction:

 

Me: You need to sort your waste because otherwise, you’re being a bad person by not caring about the environment.

Dave: I don’t want to recycle, cause I’m afraid it’s gonna take a lot of effort on my behalf and I might not be able to get it right. If I can’t sort my waste correctly, it will hurt my ego.  I like to think that I am good at most things, so sorting my recycling wrong will make me feel inadequate.

Therefore I‘m gonna use this old rumor I heard about the garbage trucks mixing the waste, to prove to myself, and to you, that the whole thing is a waste of time and energy. Then I won’t have to change my mind or my actions. More importantly, I won’t have to risk the ego punch of not knowing how to recycle.

 

 

Remember my post about some convictions being tied to a sense of self. Well, this is one of them. On a subconscious level I am a threat to Dave, because I am “telling him,” that he’s a bad person by not recycling, and that there’s something he’s not good at.

 

There’s a chance you’re reading this right now and thinking:

‘No. Come on, Mona, people are better than that. No one feels emotionally threatened by waste.’

 

Are you sure? Having a strong sense of identity is normal and sometimes that identity is tied up on being good at something specific.

Other times, it’s tied up on being good at everything. Or maybe even being bad at everything.

 

Try taking just a few minutes to, mentally, go through your friends and family members. Do you know people who don’t like being wrong? Do you have relatives who take criticism very personally?

Did you ever go to school with someone who only saw their mistakes and weaknesses, and disregarded every good grade they got?

Humans are not rational beings, and climate change is really scary and complex. Humans aren’t good with complex issues — we like simple solutions and quick-fixes.

 

 

Get on their team — how to not be a threat

Okay, not that we’ve learned to listen to the emotional conversation, it’s time to do better.

With more than 5 years as a professional trash-talker, I’ve met a lot of “Daves”.

When I do, and am greeted with the counter-argument that they just mix the waste, I say the following, magical words:

This is the van. Pretty neat, eh?

I used to think that too!

Yes, I remember the story of when it happened in [insert whatever city you feel like], but then I went to see the trucks in action, and they have made these really cool technological advances on the trucks.

Now, the trucks have separate compartments for the different kinds of trash. It’s really cool!

 

 

All of the above is true, I had heard the rumors of the mixing and had, at one point, believed them. By telling Dave this, I put myself in the same boat as my audience, before giving him more information.

 

To recap:

I, via my choice of words, tell Dave that he and I are the same. I understand him, I am like him. I also (subconsciously) used the excuse of the truck.

If I get the feeling that it’s the fear of not messing up the recycling that’s standing in the way, I say this:

‘Dude, I’ve always been into the environment but I was so confused when I first started recycling. Like, is this plastic or glass, right? Luckily, someone showed me this trick to tell it apart. The rest was just a matter of practice. It didn’t take that long, and now I can help my grandmother recycle.’

 

You need to put yourself on the same team as your audience.
Understand them. Respect them. When you do that, you are no longer a threat.

I do the same when I speak in front of larger audiences.

The following is a little trick I use. Feel free to steal it and use for your own line of environmental work.

When talking to a larger crow of people, with many different backgrounds where I haven’t the slight clue if they are “Daves”, I say hello, I introduce myself, and then I say:

“Would you like see my spaceship? I swear, it’s not a pickup line.”

 

Then I show them this photo.

 


“This is my spaceship, the big round one. I live on it with 6 billion of my closest friends.

On a spaceship, you have to bring all your resources. Food, water, tools, a guitar, and so on.

When you’ve used your resources, that’s it. You don’t have anymore, it’s gone. So you need to manage your resources and not overspend.

The same thing goes for our globe. We only have a finite amount of resources, and if we use them all, that’s it, it’s gone. This is why we need to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.”

 

Yes, the above will get different reactions depending on your audience. Some will find it childish, and even patronizing. Never the less it still breaks down a barrier between me and the receiver and creates a common frame of reference, giving me a solid based to start from.

 

I repeat:

Starting a talk by establishing a collective understanding of the subject (creating a common frame of reference) means, I build trust with my audience, and get in the same boat as them.

Throughout the talk, I’ll now be able to refer back to the spaceship, and why it’s important that we manage our resources.

 

 

Summing up — how to deal with deniers

1. You’re not perfect either. First of all remember, that you too have been a stubborn mule at some point. I sure know I have (Sorry Jens, you were right about the equator thing).

Remembering that we’re all humans and that we all have areas where we’ve stubborn or feel vulnerable, will make it much easier talking to people, who are currently neurologically tied to their conviction.

2. Don’t be the Hulk. Remember, that when you are in a debate with a denier, you are emotionally threatening the receiver. You look like the Hulk, ready the smash them with your beliefs. To put it in another way; your facts and evidence, are emotionally hurtful.

It’s important for me to stress that this doesn’t mean you should discard evidence and facts, for the sake of making the other person feel emotionally at ease. But if you are an emotional threat, your listener will treat you like that and will either fight or flight. I’m sure you’re experienced both before.

3. Use your common denominator. Find common ground, something you can agree on, and use that as an entrance to start a respectful conversation about the subject. When you peel away all the convictions, the cultural differences, and our social bubbles, we all really want the same thing — to be happy. Does the change you want to make tie into the other person’s idea of happiness? Why, why not?

You don’t have to be preaching to the choir to find common ground with your audience — just respect them, and be curious.

 

I know the above is hard work, and the world we live in is making it harder. The social media bubbles only allow us to see what people with similar opinions think. At the same time the fast pace of the internet is deteriorating our ability to learn complicated subjects and keep a healthy critical mind. (If you want to know more about this subject, I highly recommend reading The Shallows.)

 

Okay, that’s it for now. Now go and test it out in your field. I would LOVE to hear how you’ve used it, and if it helped! So leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

If you need help communicating your green message to your audience, get in touch! We do web copy, e-mails, social media campaigns, and much more.

 

 

Communicate with climate change deniers_ wired for stubborness

Communicating with climate change deniers — how to change minds when change is hard

Communicating with climate change deniers is not a walk in the park. Beliefs are tied to the neurological sense of self, and when you challenge that belief with facts, you challenge that sense of self.

Therefore, you need to understand the denier in front of you, and tailor your communication to circumvent neurological stubbornness. This post gives you concrete steps to do that.

 

Back in March 2017, I was asked to give a presentation about behavioral change, and why we have such a hard time changing our mind. This post is the laydown of that talk.


Why are there still climate deniers?

With the dire news of yet again surpassing a threshold of CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere, I want to talk a little bit about why there are still climate deniers out there, and how you should approach them.

With all the evidence of anthropogenic climate change, it seems mindboggling that anyone would refuse to believe in it. Some of those people are your neighbors, some are your family members, and some are presidents. You might find yourself thinking, why are people so stupid, the evidence is right there?

Turns to we’re not stupid, just human, and there are different reasons why some people don’t seem to get down with climate facts.

Let’s dig in.

Social bubbles and no-fact land

Two of the causes are social bubbles and the post-factual world.

I won’tCommunicate with climate change deniers - Somethinggreen.org go deep into this, but in short; you howl with the wolfs in your pack.

The same thing goes for posting on the internet. You only see posts from people, who are posting the same general themes and content as you.

 

Why? Because Facebook and other social platforms make a profit by keeping you online longer, and you will keep scrolling if the updates in your feed if it excites you. Hence, your feed has been tailored by algorithms to show you only things you will like, keeping you scrolling for hours on end.

This also means that you don’t see posts from people you disagree with. Your view of the world isn’t challenged on a regular basis. Instead, you are daily getting confirmation, in the form of likes and comments, that you are right, smart, funny and generally awesome. This has an effect on your sense of ‘being right’, as well as your ego.

The more posts you see from people who are similar to you, the more you feel like your worldview is the one true view.

If you have many climate deniers in your social circle, you will see a lot of climate denial posts. Even if you start out with a little skepticism in regards to climate science, the more climate skeptic links you click on, the more climate change denial you will see in your feed.

 

From equations to crystal healing in a week

You can test this out for yourself by only clinking on certain themes of links for about a week.

 

I accidently proved this point recently, and it took me down the peculiar algorithm rabbit hole of Facebook.

A friend had lost a bet and, as his punishment, had to attend an event about the remote healing of horses — meaning how a stranger can make your sick horse feel better, from miles away, using the power of thought… Right.

 

I found it hilarious that he had lost the bet, and clicked on the event to see just how outrageous it was. Schadenfroh much?

A week later, my Facebook feed informed me that the same friend was attending an event about angels, because he had lost another bet – and again, I clicked on the event to see what he had to endure this time.

Then, social media karma kicked in…

I  started getting adds for crystal healing, angel events, aura readings and so on. I am now struggling with getting rid of these ads in my feed, as I really don’t have a need for chakra healing in my life. I’m pretty sure my solar plexus just need more coffee.

 

So yeah, You reap what you click, and this is the price I pay for succumbing to clicking on punishment-events on Facebook, instead of doing something productive.

 

If you want to dig deeper, here’s more on the subject of social bubbles.

Why fact when I can feel?

In recent years, there’s been a rise in the notion, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

I honestly think that’s a good thing, but…

Unfortunately, this sorta merged into: Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, and that opinion matters as much as facts. We see this in political debates where a scientist will comment on a situation, and an opposing argument will be laid out, by someone who just feels differently.
This is where I get frustrated because it does not.

 

“But Mona, sometimes it turns out that the science was wrong, so obviously the facts can’t be trusted”.

 

It’s a compelling argument, but it also amplifies the social bubble effect, where everything tends to be binary. Either you’re right and I’m wrong, or vice versa. The world becomes black and white where we move further and further away from having an adult debate …and then we default to our opinions.

It’s true that every now and then, facts are disputed because we learne more about the world — like the fact that led paint isn’t good for you — but doesn’t mean feelings and opinions have the same legitimacy as our current knowledge base.

Bringing emotions to a scientific debate is like bringing a rubber chicken to a gunfight — everybody ends up looking silly.

 

The world we live in now is very different from the world we knew just a few years back. The Post-factual world, as it has been named, allows opinions and emotions to have the same argumentative weight in public discussions.

This link touches on the post-factual world, where opinions get as much (or more) airtime than facts, because it sells.

 

So what happens when we get new information, telling us that we’re wrong?

If it turns out the facts are not in our favor, we say:
‘Oh, we learned a new thing. Let’s see how this changes our worldview’.

…Except we don’t. Because we are humans, and our complex neurological brain soup hasn’t caught up with our current social structures and clickbait laded lives.

And on top of all of this, climate change is a complex problem, without any quick-fix solutions. And this makes it even harder for deniers to trust in science.

 

At the root for both of these causes lie a bigger reason as to why there are still so many climate deniers out there.


Why you can’t change your mind: I am my opinion.

We’ve all had debates with people who where non-movable, and it makes Thanksgiving a night of hell. No matter how much evidence you present them with, they just become more and more stubborn. Why is that?

It’s long been recognized in the fields of sociology and psychology, that the more you identify with your opinion, or stance — meaning the more you feel it’s a part of your personality — the harder it is for you to change your mind about it.

This is especially true if it also relates to your social/family life, like a spiritual community for instance (think Scientology or other cults).

It turns out the reason for this isn’t just psychological, it’s biological.

 

These days there is a lot of brain research happening and it’s connections to our emotions, mood, mental disorders, and decision-making processes. And the results will blow your mind.

 

One study conducted by Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam Harris, is especially interesting for anyone working with behavioral change.

The team put people inside fMRI scanners and gave the participants information about different topics. Some of the information was designed to go against the current belief systems of the participant.

 

”In this study, we performed functional MRI to measure the brain activity of 40 individuals with strong political views as they encountered arguments against their beliefs … Inside the fMRI scanner, participants saw a series of statements they previously indicated strongly believing, followed by several challenging counterarguments.

After participants read all five counterarguments, the original statement was shown again and they reported their post-challenge belief strength. The difference between pre-scan and post-challenge ratings was used as a measure of belief change.”

 

So in short, they measured how the brain reacted to new information, that contradicted the existing worldview.

And the results are in: BRAAAAINS…

I’ll get into what this means below the picture,  but enjoy the pretty brains.

 

Figure 1: Brain activation during challenges to political vs. non-political beliefs. From: Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence.

 

As you see there are two different color schemes on this image.

(If you can’t see that you’re probably colorblind, and should buy a pair of the new, ultra cool EnChroma color blindness glasses)

The colors are not for aesthetics. The blue and green’ish colors are the areas in the brain that light up when the participants are given the non-political information. The red and yellow’ish colors are the areas with the political information.

 

These two types of information make the Christmas lights in the brain illuminate different areas. Why??

The non-political info lights up the frontal lobe. That’s the part of the brain responsible for making rational choices.

The political information, on the other hand, light up in the areas of the brain associated with deep emotions and the sense of self.

 

Let’s recap: Your political convictions is, on a neurological level, associated with deep emotions and the sense of self.

 

This is really important because it means that there is a deep biological, neural link between you and your political opinion. You can’t talk reason to this part of the brain, meaning…

 

Your audience is emotional and neurologically attached to their belifssystem. When you tell them they are wrong, you are challenging the very foundation of their existence.

 

If you are working with climate communication, I would suggest that you get the above tattooed on your wrist, because it makes a world of a difference in your work.

No matter how many facts you pour onto someone, you will not change their mind – in fact, as a self-preservation method they might refute your facts and become even more stubborn in their belief. This is the backfire effect.

There is, sort to speak, a neurological stubbornness in all of us, which can make mind-changing a daunting task.

 

A shortcut to mind-changing

 

Changing your mind is hard.

Does this mean that your effort is in vain, or that it will only pay off in the far future? Luckily, no. The before mentioned study found that:

 

Post-challenge belief strength was reduced for both political and non-political statements, indicating that the counterevidence did, at least temporarily, affect reported belief strength.

However, the change was significantly greater for non-political beliefs. Follow-up questionnaires completed weeks later showed that reduced belief strength persisted for the non-political beliefs.

 

What this little gem also say is, your effort is not in vain. There is some change, even if temporary, and even if your receiver won’t admit to it — I have a coworker like that.

We see the gradual change all around us. Whether it’s the global community slowly accepting anthropogenic climate change, or your spouse admitting, after 5 freaking years, that you were right about ‘that thing’.

 

More importantly:
It’s easier to change your beliefs about non-political issues than political ones, as these are not as strongly tied up to your sense of self. This also means…

 

 You can and should use non-political issues as an entrance to mind changing.

 

There are a number of small shortcuts you can use when conveying environmental information.

 

Okay, this post is already like 1 trillion words long, but don’t fret!

In the follow-up post, I’ll give you a hands-on example of how I personally circumvent the neurological resistance to information when I give talks. There will be spaceships!

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If you have an audience that needs a good brain-tickle, don’t be afraid to reach out! Something Green does content writing for web pages, newsletters, Social Media and more.

 

 

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! -Climate change denial, and how to overcome it

In this post, we’re gonna focus on overcoming climate change denial. This means we’re gonna talk about why addressing climate change feel overwhelming, and what you can do about it.

Now we’ve established I’m a +30 cinephile, let’s dig deeper into the truth about climate change, and why we would rather not know.

Before you read further, ask yourself this: Are you willing to give this post a fair change?

 

When the content gets hard to deal with, are you gonna close the tab and go back to puppies and facebook, or are you gonna keep reading?

 

You might as well be honest with yourself because I’m going to be honest with you. More than that, I’m going to shed light on that little voice inside us all, that starts crying when it all gets too real and too overwhelming. The voice that says ‘It can’t be this bad. I’m sure they’ve got it wrong. I’ll go back to reddit now, and look at people who dress like Disney characters’.

If you’re still here you’re already further than most

The truth is we have a dire situation on our hands. Newest data suggests, that we have now surpassed the safe level of atmospheric CO2, averaging at 397.7 ppm in 2014, with a peak 404 ppm in the spring of 2014. The agreed safe level is 400 ppm.

If no drastic measures are taken NOW, we are facing a temperature increase of about 4.5 Degrees Celsius.

This will make many nations look like Water World by the year 2100.

It will also likely result in a big decrease in fish population in the oceans. In combination with our current overfishing, this might result in the death of the ocean. Yes death, as in no more fish in the sea, and hence no more sushi for your chopsticks.

 

If the world does not act in regards to climate change, we are facing droughts, famines, the greatest migration problem ever seen, deforestation, desertification. All in all, a world that sucks.

Overcoming Climate change denial - we're gonna die

See, I told you I was a cinephile


Why isn’t anybody acting?

You already knew that the world is in a bad state. None of the above was news to you, right? So, is there nothing left to do? Should we just give up? No, there are plenty of ways to act.

If we’ve been hearing these warnings for many years now, why are we still on collision-course?

Why are there still heads of state skeptical of climate change? What’s don’t the majority of Americans worry about climate change? And why on earth is the government of my home nation systematically cutting and worsening our climate initiatives?

A part of the problem is, we’ve created this big a complex world, but our hardware, our brain, is monkey_Brain_MonaJensenstill set on ‘monkey’.

The psychical structure and functions of our brains haven’t changed for thousands of years.

As an unfortunate consequence of this, we relate to the world around us as if we still only had to attend to food, shelter, and coitus.

Thinking about what our actions today will bring us 50 years down the road, is just not a natural process for us. Which means..:

 We have to work for it.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of our brains system 1 and 2. Or the reptile- and the cognitive parts of our brain. In short, we have a lazy brain that wants to conserve energy. It does this, by not working too hard, and converting as many actions as it can, into habits we don’t need to think about – like walking.

You’re pretty skilled at walking. You don’t need to think about that too much. The same with driving a car, brushing your teeth, and talking with your mother-in-law.

All these things we do out of habit. They required a lot of energy and focus from us the first times we did them, and then, with practice and repetition, they become mindless habits.

You gotta work (that lazy brain), bitch

Climate change is not something we can do on autopilot. Grasping the full scope, and furthermore, accepting that we haven’t gained knowledge of the full scope yet, is a job for the cognitive brain. We have to invest energy. This is why it feels so overwhelming.

“What? There’s more? I don’t think I can take it!”

Yes, there is haWork_bitchrd work ahead.

The world’s ecosystems are in a dire state. 2015 has so far had the biggest hurricane ever recorded, the worst droughts ever recorded, and the worst forest fires ever recorded. 50% of the cases of extreme weather of 2014 were attributed to climate change.

 

You wouldn’t be reading this post if you didn’t already know that something is wrong, and you want it to stop being wrong. It not impossible, but it will require work.

Are you still reading? Well done, not only are you among the top percentage of people determined not to stick their head in the sand, and you also building your skill of using your cognitive brain with more ease.

Face the state of your life with determination. You can’t change your situation before you accept it.

What was that thing about it-security?

I fall into the same trap of a lazy brain. I have some really smart people in my network, who know a lot about IT- and data security. They tell me about IT-dangers, and what to do about it.

Every time I feel I have almost gotten up to speed and have a basic level of security, a new threat comes along and I have to learn everything all over again.

Then I think to myself: ‘Oh come on!! Just tell me what to do, already!!security_and_environmental_science

I just want to know, what program I need to install in order to make sure I’m ok in terms of IT security.

But as anyone with the faintest knowledge about IT knows, it’s so much more complex than that.

Just like fighting climate change and working for environmental preservation, is so much more than turning the water off, or buying a Prius.

If you’re not an environmentalist, it’s an immensely complex situation, and the more you learn about it, the more complex it gets. Just like I find IT security a much bigger subject the more I learn about it.

 

Making the complex manageable

Finally gaining this insight was a blessing and a curse. It became obvious that my post needed to be centered on making sense of the immense, and turning the mass of numbers and facts into something you could actually do.

 

This is also the reason for my environmental planner‘s ABCs. Which takes us full circle back to what you can do when facing the truth about climate change. I will cover this in the next blog post.