By Martina Passacantando
‘Our house is on fire’, as Greta Thunberg said: the perception of the emergency creates anxiety in some; but some of us still do not realize that there’s a crisis.
We read the reports and listen to climate scientists, yet we wait for governments to act and others to change their lifestyle: as if it didn’t concern us personally; we might categorize it as a problem but in any case, we do not accept it as ours.
The same human beings of the “you can do it” movement withdraw from what concerns climate change: the condition is that of climatic apathy.
Espen Stoknes, Norwegian psychologist and politician, summarizes in the 5 D’s the psychological defense mechanisms that prevent climate action: Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial, iDentity.
Distance: the human brain tends to see the climate issue as remote, abstract, invisible, distant in time and in space; it’s not one of the everyday concerns, therefore the risk perception is reduced.
Doom: climate change is framed as an imminent catastrophe which threatens losses and sacrifices; this sight only creates fear and sense of guilt, and from here indifference.
Dissonance: it sets in when what we do (drive, fly, eat beef) conflicts with what we know (carbon emissions contributing to global warming); therefore, we tend to justify ourselves instead of tangibly modifying our own behaviors.
Denial: when we repress the awareness, negate, or ignore the problems on a daily basis, so as to keep living without acknowledging the unsettling truths; it is based on self-defense, not merely ignorance or lack of information.
iDentity: the new climate policies might want us to change our behaviors and the government to have a stronger role; one might then feel their values and freedom threatened. There’s a resistance to calls for change in self-identity: we filter news through our identity; look for information that confirms our beliefs and filter away what challenges them.
These are like concentric circles around the self: starting from the defense, all the way to the identity.
Together, these five limits of the human brain explain why it is so difficult for us to move from the climate warning to an actual climate action.
The exciting news is that social scientists have discovered as well how to bypass these barriers by implementing positive and motivating strategies.
Stoknes suggests, then, the five keys for a communication style that actually works well with our brain: climate action needs to be Social, Simple, Supportive, equipped with Stories and Signals.
Social Networks: peer pressure is powerful; social networks are the tool to make climate action be perceived as personal and urgent between peers.
Simple Actions: if climate-friendly decisions in everyday life were easy to take, then people would probably consider them more; making it simpler to live and shop green is the key to success. That is possible through gradual shifts: for example, by making the main course of the day in a canteen a vegan one.
Supportive framings: we should consider climate action not as costs and sacrifices, but as an opportunity to strengthen our health and wellbeing.
Storytelling: the unavoidable destiny story doesn’t go along with a proactive attitude; vivid stories with new solutions for the future are needed.
Signals: feedback is necessary. Not only global indicators about the temperature and the level of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, but most importantly signals and indicators to know if we are making actual social improvements in response to the crisis.
There are valid reasons for one to feel fear, pain and anger: a G20’s global poll observed that three out of four people are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and its consequences.
We should accept these emotions and eventually find the energy to act.
A systemic change is needed: and since we are part of the system, a change in our lifestyle is required as well.
Take the Jump is a grassroots movement created to help those people who feel powerless when thinking about the future of our world. “It is owned and shaped by those taking power”: people who experienced that emotion and then decided it was time to act.
“We do have power”: that’s their motto. Governments and businesses do have most of the responsibility, but action is needed from all actors.
Everyone can take the jump by even just trying. They recommend six shifts from the consumerist way of living we are used to, for a more sustainable and joyful life: end clutter; travel fresh; eat green; dress retro; holiday local; change the system.
The ‘Taking the Jump’ experience is supposed to make a positive change in your life easy.
No one is evaluating your actions: “trying is enough, just start”.
It is important for everyone to be active: no more “us and them”.
It is important that the need to change is felt by people: so “jump for joy”, because you want to.
It is up to privileged people who live comfortable lives to jump: “equal access, different responsibility”; in wealthy countries everyone needs to make the six shifts within the next years.
Everyone can make a difference: “this will change things”.
Are you ready to jump?
Cover image: Take The Jump’s six shifts