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The story of global warming is one that has resonated with people for decades. Every credible newspaper publishes stories about the shifting climate, while many schools have integrated it into their curriculums. Even Hollywood has their hand in the pot as they churn out film after film – San Andreas, Mad Max, The Day After Tomorrow – about the inevitable apocalypse. The only problem is, nothing is really being done to change our over-consuming, carbon emitting lifestyles we live in the 21st century. In his book, What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming, Per Epsen Stoknes successfully addresses this paradox and suggests constructive ways to enact positive environmental change by starting with the human psyche.
In the digital age of mass communication and the internet, information has become overwhelmingly abundant to the point of overdose. Because of this, it becomes increasingly difficult to sift through the YouTube kitten videos, social media selfies and sensationalist journalism in order to find the precious bits of current, informative and challenging information that truly matter. Additionally, the big, breaking news stories that do have value tend to fall by the wayside or become a brief conversation fad before slipping into the subconscious. How can we communicate the importance of an issue like global warming to a worldwide population loud enough to be heard over the static?
Even from the foreward, we see how tricky this dilemma is. One of Stoknes’ close colleagues, Jorgen Randers, discusses his frustration with his life’s work on climate change. He is upset because scientists are putting incredible amounts of time into studying and identifying the serious effects of global warming, but the public has not yet changed their ways. However, Stoknes’ unique approach gives him (and me) hope. Instead of just writing another book about the problems our world is facing, he is proposing new ways to communicate these problems to the public in order to make global warming a more tangible and solvable issue.
The book is divided into three main parts. In Part One, Stoknes examines climate change from a psychological and sociological point of view. Stoknes outlines the 5 psychological barriers – Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial and iDentity – that prevent people from accepting and acting on climate change media. Essentially, people are defensive of their way of life and are naturally afraid of the apocalyptic messages. Current climate change media challenges this by telling us we need to change our ways and make sacrifices in order to avoid the hugely detrimental effects. In Part Two, Stoknes suggests that it is time to change the ways in which we encourage people to care about the environment. He suggests we can do this by reframing the global warming message from “High Cost to Insurance”, “Destruction to Health and Heart” and “Sacrifice to Opportunity.” Finally, Part Three discusses how mankind chooses to exist in the world. The modern man doesn’t have the healthiest relationship with Mother Nature at the moment, but it’s not too late to reconcile our differences. Man and Nature are intrinsically related and it is important to respect this fact if we are ever going to make a change.
There is a lot to be said about Stoknes’ thoughts and for the most part, I agree with what he has written. As an accomplished psychologist, entrepreneur, teacher and climate change researcher, he has accumulated a significant amount of expertise on the subject of climate change and climate psychology. It is clear that people have not responded strongly enough to the environmentalist media published in the last twenty to thirty years. Scientists have continued to find and report more provocative data that suggests the end of the world, but the public has only made miniscule steps to fix it. In order to change this, “People have to want to live in a climate-friendly society because they see it as better, not because they get scared or instructed into it” (Stoknes 84). The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but the global warming message is broken and needs to be fixed. This book acts as a rational solution. Instead of hammering away with facts and data, we need a new approach.
This book contained three parts that I enjoyed and connected with most. First, Stoknes puts a positive spin on a situation that has been overwhelmingly negative for such a long time. If people are going to make a change, we need to maintain hope and positivity while being realistic about the problem we are facing. I believe Stoknes’ delivery and ideas do that perfectly. Second, the idea of reconnecting with the earth is something that I find powerful. In order for people to stop wasting fuel and energy, they will definitely need to put down their phones, laptops and tablet and go outside. Get out of the city and go hiking. Bike to work more. Climb a tree, for god sake! The last and most important idea was reframing environmentalism as an opportunity rather than a sacrifice. If saving the world means being less wasteful, living healthier lifestyles and connecting with nature, it could pose a valuable opportunity to improve as a species.
The only thing I think is missing from this book is a sharper edge. It provides great theories on how to make environmentalism appealing, but it doesn’t address the trials this movement would face. Violence sells in media, money sells in business and inspiration sells in politics. The responsibility to motivate the public to enact social change falls in the hands of these people and that is why the climate message has been misconstrued for so long. In order to make the changes Stoknes is suggesting, politicians, journalists and corporations must adopt these ideas and be convinced that this is the right move socially, economically and ethically. Although he touches on this aspect briefly, I think the importance of it was not fully emphasized.
I believe this book has a valuable message. The material and theories Stoknes conveys could be valuable not only to environmentalists, but to journalists, marketers, politicians, preachers and parents. Sometimes you need to change the way you say something if you want it to be heard clearly. “Societies change when citizens start to act together with others. And it has to start with many at once, at many places at the same time” (Stoknes 92). In this book, Stoknes encourages his readers that it’s not too late to rework the environmentalist message and inspire people to save our planet.
Ben DiNardo is a media studies major at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.