In his deeply researched and surprising book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, author George Marshall helps us understand the true nature of climate change and why it’s so hard for us to act on something that threatens to destroy us.
His points are surprising and force us to reframe our entire understanding of the issue. Here are a few examples, many of which don’t make sense until you get the benefit of Marshall’s full explanation:
- Climate change is not a tame problem, but a “wicked” one.
- Climate change is not an environmental problem.
- Fossil fuel companies must be stopped, but they are not the enemy.
- Polar bears and our grandchildren are not the ones who need to be saved.
- Conservatives are not the enemies of climate change action, but essential allies.
- Guilt over our personal contributions to climate change and fear of what will happen are our biggest opponents.
- Climate change is not in any sense a religion, but evangelical churches may be our best models for learning how to communicate about it.
I had some anxiety as I read this book, not so much because it’s about climate change, but because for the first 40 chapters or so, Marshall tells us only how NOT to communicate about climate change: why politically loaded messages hurt the cause, how making the problem scarier encourages us to ignore it even more, and how the science isn’t going to convince much of anyone, for instance. I was afraid that I was going to get to the end of the book and find out that his conclusion was “So basically, we’re f***ed.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t. At the end of the book, Marshall revisits all his key points and turns them on their heads, showing how the things we’re doing wrong in communicating climate change can maybe be done differently and effectively. It’s not that those of us who are working to solve the climate change problem aren’t trying hard enough to communicate: it’s that there’s an entirely different and unexpected way for us to go about it that is likely, based on a great deal of research and investigation, to do a much, much better job.
We tend to understand climate change in limited ways, each of us confined to some extent by our peers and expectations. Marshall’s book helps us break out of those limited understandings to see the big picture, and in the process to find new resolve, new allies, and new hope for immediate change.