The Kernel: Climate Crisis suffers from several psychological discounting because the nature of its data is not Close, Real, and Immediate. This discounting is compounded further as we filter the same crisis more also with psychological distancing to maintain self-consistency and consistency with the outer world. We shield ourselves from its impact through distortions, selective perceptions, and the here-and-now time alignment phasing. One of the paramount challenges in mobilizing Climate Crisis action is the ability to deliver a nebulous threat such as Climate Crisis in a non-nebulous way. This barrier calls for a completely different delivery system that not only addresses the fuzzy data but, more importantly, also the core need that is behind this shielding. The latter has not been sufficiently discussed exculpatorily even as it remains a persistent source of frustration in the 30 plus years of climate activism.
The Details: In the previous blog, I wrote that the need to fulfill our core needs is often the psychological driver in our behaviors. And that we often mis-explain those behaviors with explanations divorced of core needs. This is partly because our behaviors often conceal our core needs during the enactment phase (Ahmed-Kamal, 2018). And also partly because we often narrate our beliefs to our preexisting worldviews to maintain coherence to ourselves and coherence to the outer world (Henriques, 2011).
One Tiny Drop recently researched different models for understanding social inertia behind Climate Change (Climate Crisis). As a result of managing the data, we decided to congregate the data around TEN (10) models to explain the differing types of barriers to climate action. This blog is to address the first of them: Close, Real, and Immediate.
Close, Real, and Immediate is simply the concept that the likelihood a person would react to a message is often a product of both the message and the perception of it. Increase the likelihood the message feels close, real, and immediate, you just increased the likelihood that a person would act on it. And when the converse happens, apathy or indifference sets in. In the context of Climate Crisis, I found the following interpretation better captures the mind tricks of perception in dealing with Climate Crisis threats:
- Close means this threat is reproducible in my local conditions. This captures an underlying psychological distancing, unlike the common thinking Proximity as the basis for closeness.
- Real means this threat is persistent, acute, and direct in causing disruption to the status quo of what is valuable. This captures an underlying psychological distancing, unlike the common thinking Likelihood of Harm as the basis for realness.
- Immediate means the speed of threat will prevent me from the timely access to resources needed to respond adequately to protect what is valuable. This captures an underlying psychological distancing, unlike the common thinking Urgency of Here-and-Now as the basis for immediateness.
Close: The research work brought our attention to Spatial discounting . Close is commonly framed as proximity where the further away the threat is, the more we discount threat (Gifford, 2014; Swim et al, 2009). I live in Portland, Oregon, so, by nature of this discounting, the current Siberian forest fire feels less threatening than the Paradise, CA fires. However, Paradise is not far from Portland proximity wise. Because of this unbudging fact, one way we shield ourselves psychologically is we employ judgmental discounting so as to reason out Portland is less susceptible than Paradise. We congregate sufficient differences (rather than the more important act on focusing on critical similarities) between the underlying fire conditions in Paradise and in Portland. This way we can satisfy the desired outcome that a Paradise fire in Portland is highly unlikely. The way we marginalize Paradise is we levy a form of judgment skewing when gleaming over data from drought patterns, wind patterns, terrain and altitude, conditions of built-up fuel on the ground, emergency evacuation preparedness, urban planning et al. This skewing is so effective that we would still return to status quo if an adjacent neighborhood to ours was razed to the ground.
This shielding explains our chameleon nature in facing Climate Crisis: we maintain a passive ignorance on the complexity of Climate Crisis when it is happening far away, but in a 180-degree fashion we suddenly become fire prevention experts when it comes knocking on our door. Incidentally, both of these approaches are psychological distancing.
This skewing is so effective that we would still return to status quo if an adjacent neighborhood to ours was razed to the ground.
As a result of data and distancing, I lean towards the interpretation of Close as reproducibility of conditions as I feel it picks up not only the proximity element but also the accompanying psychological distancing mentioned above.
Real: Real is commonly framed as the likelihood of harm to resources or things or people of value. One research paper pointed out that the problem with Climate Crisis is its fuzzy nature undermines its own legitimacy (Ross et. al., 2016). Climate Crisis demonstrates this non-persistent behavior as it shifts between regions, between year to year, and is always cyclical in nature. As a result of this, our Climate Crisis doubts often strengthen on the lull side of the cycle where some normative weather semblance returns. Even so, when Climate Crisis strengthens to the point it becomes harder to ignore, we still find ways to shield ourselves from its disruption to the status quo. One form of psychological distancing is adopting a form of Sovereign Nature narrative that explains nature is doing its own dance. Another narrative is that any Climate Crisis signs are just part of nature’s natural but built-in erraticness, and that nature will eventually return to the norm. And to boot, all of this will happen just in time to spare us from breaking rank with the status quo. This worldview, similar to a Nature Benign Worldview (Gifford, 2014), simply legitimizes the status quo with its accompanying illusion it is harmless in the long run.
I recently heard an example of this Sovereign Nature when a person kept rebuilding on the same floodplains after each devastation, only to stop when he could no longer afford his insurance rather than he had given up on nature swinging in his favor. I guess the insurance actuaries were not counting on the Sovereign Nature factor in pricing insurance.
Another psychological distancing shows up when we focus inordinately on the here and now so as to block out the persistently worsening patterns behind weather swings (Ross et al., 2016). You can hear this here and now shielding when Climate Crisis’s legitimacy is mocked and chided on an extremely cold day in winter. One research paper attributes this behavioral tendency as natural since Climate Crisis lacks specificity and is too conceptual to comprehend (Markman, 2018).
Another way we add more distancing is when we often tend to narrow Climate Crisis as simply drier and hotter. So when the 2018 Bangladesh rain inundated that country, the hotter and drier antagonist -donned in her full psychological distancing suit- will proclaim this is living proof there is no Climate Crisis. This is in spite of her ironically standing in the midst of a devastation of the wetter type. This narrowing of Climate Crisis in a selective way is an implicative denial of Climate Crisis, and that the dissonance fueling this denial is aggravated further by counter framing (hoaxing) (Stoknes, 2018; Ross et al, 2016).
And the last distancing perception is Acute and Direct where Climate Crisis has no legitimacy unless there is a direct impact on Humans alone in an irreparable way (acute). This distancing shields us from the already documented mass extinction of non-human species (extinction is acute as it is an irreversible effect). Similarly, we shield ourselves when our natural food chain has weakened to the point we are increasingly depending on farm-raised versions to feed the world. This dependence shifts away resources from Nature where it is badly needed for reparations. This is notwithstanding the worst effects we haven’t experienced yet due to the laggard nature of Climate Crisis. To make it worse, Climate Crisis is levying its wrath starting with inhospitable places such as the North and South Pole (read Siberia is burning), thus creating a spatial laggard effect.
When we entomb ourselves with our make-believe healthy trees to benefit our psychological distancing, we certainly will miss the forest burning outside in with Climate Crisis having us trapped in the middle.
When we entomb ourselves with our make believe healthy trees to benefit our psychological distancing, we certainly will miss the forest burning outside in with Climate Crisis having us trapped in the middle.
And thus I lean towards the interpretation of Real as persistent, acute, and direct as I feel it picks up not only the likelihood of harm element but also the accompanying psychological distancing mentioned above.
Immediate: Immediate in common usage simply means whether the threat is happening now. Two papers touched on Temporal Discounting to explain this phenomenon (Markman, 2018; Swim, 2009). Just like Close except with time as the vector, Temporal Discounting means the further out in time Climate Crisis’s worst impacts are, the more we discount Climate Crisis. Compounding this is our inability to properly see Climate Crisis’s worst impact will be sooner than later . One paper touched on Projection Fallacy where we often see phenomena in a linear way as opposed to the compounding effects of Climate Crisis (Markman, 2018). Simply put, our minds think 1,2,3,4,5,6 as a natural warming trend of Climate Crisis when it really is closer to 1,2,4,8,16,32.
One of the psychological ways we shield ourselves from Climate Crisis is Place Attachment (Swim, 2009). It simply states people of higher geographical mobility as less likely to work on Climate Crisis. Another way we remain passive is to marginalize the surface appearance of a slight rise in average temperatures when in fact it is really hiding the fundamental destabilization of Earth’s climate system (Pike, 2010). As a result of this marginalization, we miss out on the framing that the time to make decisions is now when our resources are still strong enough to address Climate Crisis’s laggard and non-linear impact. This is woefully better than waiting for a future time where Climate Crisis will outmatch our current resources, notwithstanding our ability to regenerate resources will be increasingly crippled by Climate Crisis years ahead. Bluntly speaking, the laggard effect compels us to view yesterday’s window of opportunity are needed to match tomorrow’s burden; and not today’s window for today’s burden. It is this time alignment shift that we completely miss to our peril.
(T)he laggard effect compels us to view yesterday’s window of opportunity are needed to match tomorrow’s burden; and not today’s window for today’s burden. It is this time alignment shift that we completely miss to our peril.
And as a result of the above reasoning, I lean towards the interpretation of Immediacy as the timely access to resources matching the seen and unseen burden, embodying the fallacy of framing today’s abundant resources as sufficient for today’s surface problems, much like flipping a switch. Rather this version embodies the willpower and the consequential inconvenience to our lifestyle, both of them resources of different nature, so as to stave off the initial carbon footprint that, due to non-linear growth, would place an impossible burden in the future time scale.
In summary: Close, Real, and Immediate is problematic not only in the nature of the Climate Crisis data, but also in the way we shield ourselves from its impact through distortions, selective perceptions, and the here-and-now time alignment phasing. One of the greatest challenges in mobilizing Climate Crisis action is the ability to deliver a nebulous threat such as Climate Crisis in a non-nebulous way that would not only overcome the deficit in the nature of its own data but also the different psychological shieldings designed to maintain coherence to self and coherence to the outer world. This calls for a completely different delivery system that not only addresses the fuzzy data but, more importantly, also the core need that is behind this shielding. I believe the latter has been poorly addressed and has been a persistent source of frustration in the 30 plus years of climate activism.
And that is why more data has not worked, nor does the descriptive but increasingly doom narrative using drowning polar bears and alike.
As a result of this inspiration, One Tiny Drop is currently developing a novel delivery system to address these psychological barriers.
 Nature Benign Worldview maintains nature is impervious to human action with an infinite ability to absorb endless human action
 Every successive update from IPPC has consistently shortened the time remaining to reverse Climate Crisis, in most instances, dramatically.
 This nonlinear curve is partly a result of the laggard effects mentioned above in Real. Also, it is partly from a feedback effect of the releasing of frozen reserves of methane (methane is 84 times more harmful than CO2 in terms of Climate Crisis) and the loss of cooling from the solar reflection of ice and snow melting as well, both due to unprecedented melting. To make things worse, the dilution of the seas from such melting alters the sea and wind currents in a way that turns down the planet’s air conditioning.
 There are other discrete types of barriers (to be mentioned in subsequent blogs) that will be considered as well in such development.
Ahmed- Kamal, N. (2018). Body of Lies: An exploration of Deceptive Strategies through body Psychotherapy. International Body Psychotherapy Journal The Art and Science of Somatic Praxis. Volume 17, Number 2, Spring 2018 pp 07 – 21. ISSN 2169-4745 Printing, ISSN 2168-1279 Online
Henriques, Gregg. (2011). A New Unified Theory of Psychology 2011th Edition. New York, NY: Springer
Ross, L. et al (2016). The Climate Change Challenge and Barriers to the Exercise of Foresight Intelligence. BioScience 66: 363-370. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw025
Gifford, P. (2014). Environmental Psychology Matters. Annual Review of Psychology 2014. 65: 541-79. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115048
Stoknes, E. (2018). The Five Psychological Barriers to Climate Action. Retrieved from https://www.utne.com/environment/psychological-barriers-to-climate-action-ze0z1803zhee
Markman, A. (2018). Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/10/why-people-arent-motivated-to-address-climate-change
Swim, J (2009). Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/science/about/publications/climate-change
Pike, C. et al (2010). Climate Communications and Behavior Change: A Guide for Practitioners. The Climate Leadership Initiative (2010)