Climate change: Learning from past experience


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Good introductory article by Dave Finnigan

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Climate change: Learning from past experience

  1. 1. Climate Change: Lets learn from past successes (and failures) By Dave Finnigan, Director Climate Change is Elementary One of the reasons that the Climate Movement has had such opposition and only limited success is that we have failed to learn from successes and failures in the past. In the 1960s I was privileged to be the Information, Education and Communication consultant to the National Family Planning Programs of South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. We used, as one of our guidelines, the work of Prof. Everett Rogers on Diffusion of Innovations, how a new idea spreads and is adopted in a culture. Rogers used a normal curve to show the five different groups of consumers and how they came aboard in the adoption of a new technology. You do best if you start with the Innovators on the left hand side of the chart, and work your way to the right. An analogy is that first you get the choir singing, then you teach the congregation, and then you go to nearby neighbors before you go out to the people far from the church or those who are opposed to your song or to singing in general.
  2. 2. In Korea and Taiwan we followed Roger's advice and we assembled our forces from among the Innovators, Early Adopters and the Early Majority. As a consequence people flocked to the new program under the theme "Girls and Boys are equal, two is enough" We used no coercion, but we gave lots of positive reinforcement to adopters. In the Philippines on the other hand the program did not focus on the Early Adopters, but instead took the bait of the Catholic Church and got into an argument from the start trying to defeat the Laggards, who were like our climate change deniers today. The end result is that in Korea the average family size went from 6 kids to 1.2 over the last 45 years and average per capita income went from under $1,000 per year to over $38,000. But in the Philippines average family size went from 6 kids to 3.2 and the per capita income is just now about to hit $2,000. Korea’s population went from about 30,000,000 in 1966 to 48,000,000 today and will fall to around 40,000,000 by 2040. The Philippines population went from 30,000,000 to an unsustainable 94,000,000 today and, barring cataclysm, will be 188,000,000 by 2040 because the parents of the additional 94,000,000 children are already born and many are entering their reproductive years.
  3. 3. This proves once again that "demography is destiny. The reason this is relevant to my own work today is that I ignore deniers. They are best presented today by the Yale Study on Six Americas which updated Rogers' work and added another category. My own interpretation of the original Rogers Curve, using the Yale study categories is as shown very roughly in this illustration. I hope it is clear that this is a bimodal curve and that in the larger and left hand hump are ourselves and our colleagues and in the right hand side of the curve are the two groups who I ignore and who we would do well to not confront, the Dismissive and the Doubtful. In our work with elementary school families and teachers we feel we are working to bring the one group that transcends both humps, the Disengaged on board. Since this is a bimodal curve there is no chance of converting the Dismissive and Doubtful over to our mode. We are battling for the hearts and minds of the Disengaged. It is rare that anyone jumps from one hump to another although there are some notable exceptions, including occasional climate scientists who see the light
  4. 4. and change modes (make a "hump jump"). Richard Muller was one such exception, but it was not through argument or confrontation that he changed, but through his own research. Part of Everett Rogers' work was a "stairway" from Awareness to Adoption which I have modified here to show how I see this problem and our movement toward successful conclusions. I have taken the liberty of adding a few steps based on my own experience. What we found in the Family Planning programs of East Asia was that after a person or a couple became adopters, with the right reinforcements we could help them to choose to become advocates as well. So as we help people who are Disengaged or are already Cautious, Concerned, or Alarmed to move up the stairway toward advocacy we have so many small steps that we can help them take in the trial and evaluation phase. They can change light bulbs and see the result, get an energy audit and see the result, buy an efficient vehicle and see the result, instal solar hot water and see the result, put solar panels on their roof and see the result, convert to wind energy and see the
  5. 5. result. Once they have taken these many intermediate steps they become adopters and get confirmation from friends and neighbors who applaud their work. Finally they become advocates. As a result of this personal experience with culture change, I am loathe to confront anyone on their strongly held beliefs and in my opinion that is where the climate conversation has gone awry. This project got politicized. Politics is much more confrontational than is social science. Many of us got wound up by Al Gore, who pointed us at the deniers who were identified as "the enemy" when we perhaps should have first gone out and worked with our friends. They would have come on board by the millions if they were simply shown the full story in an educational and non-confrontational manner and they would have become part of the Concerned crowd, maybe even joining the Alarmed. But we took the bait and in doing so we fell into traps that have been laid by the media and the Deniers, accepting their frames and repeating their pet phrases, like "Clean Coal" over and over in arguing against them, thereby strengthening their hands. For an explanation of the idea of framing please read anything by George Lakoff, such as Lakoff says "Framing is not primarily about politics or political messaging or communication. It is far more fundamental than that: frames are the mental structures that allow human beings to understand reality – and sometimes to create what we take to be reality. But frames do have an enormous bearing on politics … they structure our ideas and concepts, they shape the way we reason … For the most part, our use of frames is unconscious and automatic." So you can understand why I am such an optimist for our work. I do not, will not, and cannot, harbor negative thoughts about our outcomes because in my framing we are headed toward a clean and green future and the children of the World will lead the way. If we do confront a skeptic or two in our evening program that is held every night with we have a big banner on the wall that sets them straight. It says "Whether the climate is changing or not, and whether people are the cause or not, these children deserve a clean and green future." When the denier rears his head, we read this in chorus and they usually sit back down and stay quiet.
  6. 6. Petroleum is a legal drug to which we are all addicted. We cannot effectively interdict the flow of illegal drugs, so how can we stop the flow of a drug you and I use every day? Although I've been arrested at the White House for standing up against Keystone XL Pipeline, I think some of us need to look at the issue in a non-confrontational manner, by reducing the demand for this drug we will make the construction of all pipelines moot, and we will stop the oil trains as a bonus. That is why I want to spend my energy helping people get onto solar and wind energy, to reduce our dependence on the fossil fuel drug. Although I'll still go to rallies, I'll let others fight against fracking, pipelines, investments, mountain top removal, and other fossil fuel related battles. My latest two slides are a very quick and concise look at where I think we are today in the moment in history when everything is about to change. And a projection of the cost of gasoline, probably very much underestimated.
  7. 7. So my conclusion, written from the point of view of a 72 year old eternal optimist is that we will lick this problem, but to do so we need to get the huge group of disengaged elementary school and middle school kids and their parents and teachers (most of whom are actually cautious supporters) to make the sort of changes that those of us who are concerned and alarmed know everyone needs to take. Conclusions – Although I understand the natural human instinct to join causes against perceived evils or impending crises, and have many scars from such skirmishes myself, I see that there is another way to solve any problem, and that is through the use of “honey rather than vinegar.” Many people do not react well to images of doom and gloom, but will react positively to stories about hope and change. Dispirited people do not take action, but people who see a glimmer of hope will act positively. If we really want to solve this problem it is my contention that many of us need to get on the positive side here and reframe the issue as one we can solve with the appropriate application of grit and muscle. I applaud the work of the groups that head bravely into battle, but I prefer to work on changing the environment in which the war is taking place to make the battle unnecessary. Written in Celebration, FL - 7 February 2014