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.
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.
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
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
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 www.climatechangeiselementary.org 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.
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
And a projection of the cost of gasoline, probably very much
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