Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part2

Note: as of 8th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/08/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part2/

∙Second of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

IMHO the engagement of psychologists with the social phenomenon of climate change has been hugely disappointing. As noted at the end of the last post, knowledge of cognitive bias by no means guarantees protection against it, and as a consequence of this simple fact psychologists do not apply their knowledge and tools to the entire social landscape of the climate change domain. Instead they appear to assume that the dominant paradigm of catastrophic AGW is magically free of bias, and so focus only upon negative reactions to that paradigm, namely skepticism and inaction, with which they appear to be obsessed. This obsession in turn appears to stem from a kind of prejudiced fascination in attempting to solve what is perceived as a fundamental riddle: why is there an apparent gulf between attitudes and action on climate change? And why do a small band of ‘way-out’ skeptics appear to foster so much success? An article on the New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) website, Psychology may yet be the most potent foil to climate change, finds Harriet Palmer (November 9, 2011), summarizes the appeal of the problem thusly:
∙∙∙∙∙∙That contradiction between what we feel we should be doing, and what we are doing, is fertile ground for the social sciences. Psychologists, analysts, academics, policymakers, politicians – they’re all dying to know why what we think about climate change, and what we do about it, seem to be two very different things.
Palmer later encapsulates the lack of progress on this perceived problem, essentially stating that we still don’t know the answer, along with pleading special case (‘unique’), which is never a good sign [my underline]:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Psychologists are trying to find out what happens in our heads when we hear the ‘CC’ words. They suspect that climate change presents a unique set of barriers that stop people engaging with the reality, and sap their will to act.
However, this hasn’t prevented very many proffered insights and candidate explanations from a wide array of psychologists. From the same article:
∙∙∙∙∙∙It feels like environmentalists are asking us to give up the good life. That’s when we’re tempted to slip into what Albert Bandura, Professor of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, calls “selective moral disengagement,” a neat trick we’ve learned to keep guilt at bay.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Dr Niki Harré, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, argues a better appreciation of human psychology would prompt a much wider response [to the challenges of climate change]. Harré believes our morals, and beliefs about justice, are a big part of the equation. Inherent moral values guide much of our behaviour, and Harré says we’d make more progress if people thought about conserving resources at least as a societal convention, but better still, as something that was simply morally right.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Psychologists describe climate change risks as having ‘high psychological distance’ – a long way off in the future, happening to somebody else, on the other side of the world.

In the article Psychological Factors Help Explain Slow Reaction To Global Warming (August 10, 2009), the American Psychological Association appears to agree with the ‘set of barriers’ approach:
∙∙∙∙∙∙While most Americans think climate change is an important issue, they don’t see it as an immediate threat, so getting people to “go green” requires policymakers, scientists and marketers to look at psychological barriers to change and what leads people to action, according to a task force of the American Psychological Association.
This approach certainly allows for much ground (and much ass, perhaps) to be covered; they identify ‘numerous’ barriers, of which half a dozen (uncertainty, mistrust, denial, undervaluing risk, lack of control, habit) are briefly expanded, adding:
∙∙∙∙∙∙The task force highlighted some ways that psychology is already working to limit these barriers.
Yet these ‘barriers’ have very much the feel of a large mish-mash of second or third rank factors that have all been rather forcefully marshaled into some kind of coherent narrative.

Many contributions from psychology seem to run along similar lines, and some psychologists even claim that they may have an answer to the riddle. An article in Time, The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head (August, 2013), is subtitled:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is.’
Yet once again these ‘answers’ invoke a range of factors, up to 30 in fact, and hardly seem convincing. From the same article (and noting that in respect of climate change not taking ‘a human form’, I’d say it has been massively anthropomorphized over the last thirty years!):
∙∙∙∙∙∙For some, the answer lies in cognitive science. Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has written about why our inability to deal with climate change is due in part to the way our mind is wired. Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, “because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.”
∙∙∙∙∙∙Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, also picks up on the point about our brains’ difficulty in grasping climate change as a threat. Gifford refers to this and other psychological barriers to mitigating climate change as “dragons of inaction.” Since authoring a paper on the subject in 2011 in which he outlined seven main barriers, or dragons, he has found many more. “We’re up to around 30,” he notes. “Now it’s time to think about how we can slay these dragons.” Gifford lists factors such as limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity (the “Why should we change if X corporation or Y country won’t?”) and the perceived risks of changing our behavior.

Next page (2) for more…

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