Thursday, 30 May 2019

How to Overcome Negativity to Climate Change

It is a sad fact  that many people are not engaged enough with the issue of Climate Change to make the changes in their lives to tackle it.  The more I see of attitudes, especially on the Internet, the more I worry.  Let me give you three examples:

I was recently made aware of social media accounts pushing people to extreme cleaning with a massive arsenal of often toxic products all supplied in plastic packaging.  If you suggest an eco-friendly alternative or mention health concerns you will be labelled a troll and more than likely find yourself blocked.

Then there is the petition asking to being back plastic straws to MacDonalds.  Thankfully many more people have signed the ban plastic straws petitions but over 44,000 still want to drink their milkshakes with a plastic straw.

And very recently someone reading this blog was clearly not able to accept my point of view: In my last blog post, I wrote about how the world cannot support a growing population that over eats and wastes food. Whilst many acknowledged this, one reader was clearly very upset and accused me of being a sanctimonious vegan who spouted crap and was now turning on people.


I don't believe she properly read what I wrote, not least because I am not a vegan and my whole reason for writing this blog to to help people make simple green changes that can have far reaching positive effects - it is something I am passionate about but it appears this lady was very much against my view this time - or at least read it that way and so turned on me in her comment.  I have no idea exactly what sparked her anger but people will use various defences or strategies to justify why they do not need to do anything to something and she will have used one or more of these.

Overcoming Climate Negativity

Defences to deny Action on Climate Change

1. Distance 

Climate Change is too far away, both in physical distance and time.  In our everyday lives we cannot see the melting ice caps, dying polar bears, rain forest clearance etc or we perceive the problems to be too far in the future as to not feel real so we do not need to act now. 

2.  Desensitisation

When people constantly see stories bad news the original shock they first feel weakens and they begin to become desensitised to it.  If it is all doom and gloom and it is going to happen anyway, they choose to live for the day and put off tackling the problem for tomorrow - or avoid it altogether. It has been termed Climate Change Fatigue.

3. Excuses

People try to justify why they won't make the necessary changes by making excuses.  They might say they don't need to cut down on red meat as they only eat it 3 times a week when friends eat it every night.  They are already "doing their bit".  With regard to flying, they say the plane will take off whether they are onboard or not so they might as well go. 

4.  Denial

If people really do not want something they can deny its very existence to suit their own ends.  It's an easy way out of a big problem, to say it doesn't exist.

5.  Fear of Change

You are asking people to radically change the way they lead their lives and many people do not want to change to a lifestyle they perceive as being worse than what they have now and will do anything not to have those changes happen.

People use these 5 defences to hide away from accepting the fact that they need to make changes to tackle Climate Change.  Somehow we need to overcome these negative attitudes.

Strategies to achieve positive Climate Action 

1.  Focus on local rather than global.   

It is much easier to tackle smaller things that are local to you and follow the lead of those around you.  Let people see your reusable cup and the cost advantages it brings you.  We could call it Keeping up with the Eco-Joneses with everyone trying to outdo the next person in going green.  

2.  Bring out the positives

Telling someone that a particular veggie burger tastes great, lowers your risk of a heart attack and costs less is a far better way to get them to try it than talking about farting cows and atmospheric methane levels that are a result of eating a beef burger.  Blind them with tangible advantages not scientific facts and figures.

3. Employ simple tricks to help make changes. 

For example you can reduce food waste at home by reducing your plate size. Share your hacks and tricks to leading a greener life. You can see some of my ideas in my weekly green tips series.

4.  Create social norms

At a function the default food is normally meat based and vegetarians have to ask for a the veggie option so switch this round and make the meatless option the norm.  There are countless changes people can make that help make tackling climate change the normal thing to do.

4. Positive feedback

People need to see that their changes are making a significant difference.  For example people who wear a fit bit are more likely to find the time to get those step numbers up each day (especially if they are challenging a friend to see who can do more) .  Technology has a massive role to play in saving the planet at a personal level eg apps to show how few miles you drive or fly or how much electricity you have saved  or where you can zero waste shop or swap things you no longer need etc etc.

5.  Acknowledgement

We need to acknowledge that change has always happened (it's how we got in this mess on the first place) so if we got ourselves here by change we can get ourselves out of this crisis by change. We need to accept that we are all responsible and with technology and innovation on our side we can achieve what might currently appear to be impossible.  Every small step each individual person takes really does make a difference.

6. Reconnect with our natural environment

When you love something you are much more likely to want to protect it.  We need to connect ourselves back to our natural world.  We need to put gardening back on the national curriculum and every school should ensure all its pupils are involved in environment projects. We need community wild spaces and gardens.

7.  Social media influencers and TV

Both these can have a massive role to play by promoting positive environment messages and products. A TV programme could include a story line about a child with asthma as a result of living close to a busy road and people will associate this story line with their own lives.   People naturally search out information that reinforces what they already believe is right and will ignore anything they do not agree with. By having positive messages brought before them through all forms of media the green messages can be seen by people who might otherwise have ignored them.

For too long we have been trying to scare people into making changes and it is something I have been guilty of too through this blog.  Showing a picture of a stork with a plastic bag stuck over its face is shocking but we know now that we disassociate ourselves from images like this. But if we build on positive stories and engage more people we can succeed.  Let me end this post with a short true story:

I used to work in environmental education, helping schools make better use of their grounds for wildlife and as outdoor classrooms.  I would organise green themed games and activities aimed to help children see Nature's beauty that is all around them.  I worked in hundreds of schools with thousands of children but probably spend no more than one or two hours max with any one class of around 30 children. Could this possibly make a difference to their attitudes?  One Saturday I was in our local shopping center with a colleague who was wearing a tree costume and we were handing out leaflets about a tree planting scheme.  Three lads, about 13 years old, sauntered up to us and we were ready for a bit of banter.  We were wrong about that and this is what one of them said:

"You're Rosie aren't you?  We did tree planting with you, Miss, and it was great!"
What will you do today to build on Climate Positivity? 
(pinning this would be a good start!)

Strategies to overcome negativity to Climate Change


  1. Really interesting. Totally agree with providing the positives. So easy to hide from something that is happening a thousand miles away, but when it is about you and your surroundings, its a more powerful and relevant message. I'm all for not telling people how to live. Puts backs up, but if I can show how it works for me, can save money and promote health, then hopefully I'll nudge their thinking. I do love your story about the teens recognizing you and taking the time to tell you how much they enjoyed your tree planting activity. Perfect.

  2. Keeping up with the eco jones!! I love it. I thoroughly agree about tacking issues on a local level. When you look at the global picture the task just seems to gargantuan. Much like I said on your previous post, all our little changes will snowball to make a big difference! #GoingGreen

  3. Great post, Rosie. I think it is about the balance, we need to see positive small steps/progress but at the same time we can't only focus on swapping a silly straw against something more sustainable and rest on our laurels. Bit of a tightrope walk to get that balance right... #goinggreen

  4. Excellent post! I get a bit disheartened about the level of denial and inaction on climate change generally, and am doing my best to inspire and promote everyday changes to have less impact. This has given me more ideas to use too, so thank you.


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