Climate change is a wicked problem that can easily feel overwhelming to an individual. How can climate activists avoid downplaying the real threat without freaking people out? How can we move people from apathy and despair to action? Using insights from psychology and new research on the impact of COVID-19 on thinking about climate change, Dr. Frantz will provide concrete ideas for how to talk about climate change in a way that motivates action and fights despair.
Speaker, Cindy Frantz, PhD, is a social and environmental psychologist at Oberlin College. Cindy directs the Community Based Social Marketing Research Lab at Oberlin College, a collaborative research program among faculty, students, and staff to develop, test, and promote behavior change programs that reduce Oberlin College’s carbon emissions.
More than 4 million people participated in a worldwide climate strike on September 20, including the estimated 250 to 300 individuals–from students to the elderly–who gathered at Risman Plaza on the campus of Kent State University, carrying signs and speaking about environmental justice for future generations. According to 350.org, the strikes drew the largest crowds ever, sending a collective message to elected officials and world leaders that swift climate action is needed now.
The local strikers included Jeff Ingram and Doc, who played their drums to encourage people to stop and listen to the speakers, and Renee Zimelis-Ruchotzke, who encouraged speakers and singers to take a turn on the microphone.
Lila, a high school student, said that it was hard to think about the possibility that her children won’t have what we have now. She said that she can’t vote yet but is encouraging those who can vote to elect good leaders.
Another speaker talked about the need for a new president and vice president. Other speakers talked about how corporations put profits over people when they should be putting people and the planet over profits.
Jess, who works in the solar energy industry, said that people don’t need to burn anything to create energy. All that is needed, he said, is to connect to the sun. Jess noted, however, that Ohio has a dismal goal of 5% renewables, compared to 50% to 100% in other states.
A freshman fashion design student talked about the lack of sustainability in the fashion and clothing industries. Other speakers encourage people to “be the change you want.” Kevin sang an original song titled “Garden of Dust,” which described possible consequences that people and the planet face with climate change. Other inspiring songs and chants were interspersed with the speakers.
Here are more photos from the local climate strike:
The past several months have been full of news about climate change markers (e.g., permafrost and glaciers melting, record-setting heat waves, flooding, crop disruption) that were predicted by climate scientists but were not expected to occur until decades from now. Yet, these events are not eliciting alarm beyond those of us who have already been paying attention. What is it about Western society that is preventing us from taking action?
Epsen Stoknes, a clinical and organizational psychologist from Norway, offers insight into human psychology that outlines barriers to taking action as well as strategies to overcome those barriers.
His first insight is that once people have a basic understanding of the facts about climate change, more facts do nothing to convince most people to change their behavior. Stoknes believes that five (at least) psychological barriers interrupt possible action and that all of these barriers have been purposely triggered by the anti-climate-change movement:
The impact of climate change is at a distance for most Americans. Until there is a direct impact on us or our close family members and friends, we can set climate change outside of our circle of concern.
We are averse to messages of doom and loss. Without an accompanying message of hope and possibility, we feel helpless and shut down our creative abilities.
Much of our lifestyle is complicit in contributing to the problem of climate change, yet we don’t want to feel bad about ourselves or our choices. This creates dissonance, which causes us to downplay our impact.
When we feel fear, guilt or shame, it’s human nature to downplay the cause of those feelings by avoiding, ignoring or engaging in other kinds of denial.
Our social location and identity help to reinforce our beliefs, mores and values. If we take in and adopt information that threatens this sense of who we are and to whom we belong, we risk losing our social position and our identity.
Stoknes then shares strategies to address and dismantle these barriers, including strengthening social ties and community connections, nudging and supporting better behaviors, keeping the messages understandable and pragmatic, using the power of stories, and finding ways to create feedback loops to reinforce preferred climate-friendly behaviors. A few sections of the book are his outlines for new story frames (which did not resonate for me personally), but the book as a whole provides a practical road map for activists who want to have an impact on people’s day-to-day behaviors.
Kent Sustainability Commission’s Ad Hoc Committee Makes Progress in Support of Paris Agreement on Climate Change
A recent commentary in the print media said that said all of the doom and gloom articles about climate change have left people feeling helpless and that the media need to focus more on what was being done by people, companies, and communities to combat climate change. The example given was about an Alaskan village that was disappearing because climate change has forced the village to move 9 1/2 miles over the past decade to find solid ground. While Kent isn’t facing something this dramatic, the city is being proactive and taking steps to do its part to fight climate change.
Kent City Council asked an ad hoc committee of the Sustainability Commission to develop a climate action plan for the city. The committee–two members of the Sustainability Commission members, three representatives of the Kent Environmental Council, two representatives of Kent State University, one representative of Davey Tree and support staff from the city– has been meeting regularly.
The city has joined ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability, which was founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Enviro
nmental Initiatives). ICLEI is the leading global network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions committed to building a sustainable future. By joining, the city gained access to the ClearPath software, which is used worldwide to track greenhouse gas emissions.
The committee is representing Kent as one of 10 cities chosen to participate in a web-based, 10-week work session on how to complete a greenhouse gas inventory. Afterward, the committee will put what it has learned into action here in Kent, with the greenhouse gas inventory process expected to take 12 to 18 months. After baseline greenhouse gas inventory data have been collected, the committee will report its findings to the community and seek community input and then use that information help guide its development of a climate action plan.