Monday, February 01, 2010

What Next After Copenhagen -- Messaging Higher Up on Maslow's Pyramid


Here's an outstanding set of comments from a behavior change expert about what comes next following Copenhagen:

What to do after Copenhagen?

Radically reframe, that's what. Change the messaging and focus on the HUMAN condition we are in -- not the condition of the climate.

Two reasons: Cognitive brain science and the history of social movements.

Cognitive Brain Science (generally speaking) says that the brain needs (first) messaging that is not only human centered, but individual centered, to turn concern about an issue into action on it. We can and are concerned about climate change; but for us to turn that concern into action, we need the issue framed as a HUMAN SITUATION.

The human condition we are in is not 'climate change' or 'global warming' or even '350.' That is the science, but it is not our story.

Further, the brain underestimates tragedy, especially of the distant future kind, and "future tragedy to humanity" simply does not register in the brain. We have a blind spot when it comes to accepting how tragic something will be.

BUT, cognitive brain science tells us that we OVERESTIMATE how wonderful things will be in the future.

Second reason we need radically new frame/messaging:
According to eminent sociologist, Robert Brulle, 40 years of social movement research shows that people act when messages are framed as "nightmare" versus "dream." We - rather, our brains -- need the "nightmare" driven home hard and to be as immediate and personal as we can (to get past the blind spot). But give us a dream of how wonderful the future will be, and our brains will jump on the bandwagon with glee.

As the same Alex Steffen (rightly) says, "Any vision of sustainability that does not include a vision of human happiness is bound to fail." better put, perhaps, a vision of sustainability that does include a dream of human happiness is bound to succeed. The brain can't help it.

So, given our brains and our history, unless and until the "environmental" movement finds the human story in climate change, our brains won't get the tragic human condition we are in.

Here is the messaging that I think will work - especially if it is unified across all the major environmental groups:

HUMAN NIGHTMARE: Climate change is the human condition of mutually assured destruction of people and planet.

HUMAN DREAM: MUTUALLY ASSURED VITALITY of persons and places, humans and habitats, all over a planet cared for by all.

Fold the science, the numbers, the carbon, and all the rest of our environmental condition into these two human nightmare/dream human conditions, and our brains will finally GET IT.

This is a fantastic set of comments, and apparently MimiK (the commenter) is writing a book on the subject.

I disagree on what the dream and nightmare are, mainly in that I think we can make it even more concrete:

HUMAN NIGHTMARE (appealing high up on Maslow -- to our basic food need): Climate change, by destabilizing the conditions required to grow our crops and maintain safe drinking and agricultural water supplies, threatens humanity with the prospect of unprecedented global food, fresh water and starvation crises.

HUMAN DREAM (appealing to health, safety, economic security, biophilia): You don't even need to accept the science of climate change to be in favor of clean energy economy solutions, which are getting cheaper and will power the 21st century economy. These 21st century clean energy sources will reduce pollution and protect public health by cleaning the air that we breath and water that we drink.  They will improve our economic and national security by freeing our economy from its unstable, unpredictable, and increasingly risky reliance on global oil markets.  They will create millions of jobs -- not only to build and deploy the technologies, but to do the sales and administration, marketing, PR, etc.  They will also create jobs indirectly -- more fuel efficient cars and energy efficient homes means we will have lower energy costs.  Thus, we will have more money to spend on electronics, travel, home improvements, and all sorts of other goods and services, which will spur broad economic growth and job creation.

If you are against these solutions, than what are you for -- continued reliance on dirty oil and other fossil fuels? Those are the energy sources of the 20th century -- their prices are rising, supplies are increasingly uncertain, and the pollution they cause is costing our economy over $120 billion per year in health care costs alone, contributing to our skyrocketing health insurance costs and further slowing the economy.

Read more>>

NOTE: I'm thrilled to report that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) clearly gets it, and nails the PATRIOTIC + economic appeal.  As climate and energy policy expert, Joe Romm reports: 

"Six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China,” said Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has been deeply involved in climate change issues in Congress. “Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy.”

If you are against the bold policy solutions needed for our Clean Energy Economy to really take off, you are unpatriotically helping China whoop America in the race for the millions of jobs it will create! 

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