The 5 psychological barriers to climate action



All true…which is why this approach seems so much more likely to succeed in actually getting things done:

I think it’s quite clear by now that absent the wholesale removal of our current political and economic infrastructure and its replacement by a totalitarian environmental regime (which is unlikely) the standard solutions to climate change are simply not going to happen. We have got to start looking at both adaptation and new ways to convince people, nations and companies to take effective action.
And I really hope people will go read the report before flaming me for being either a denier, an alarmist, a troll, a fatalist or what have you. (But this is the internet, so I doubt anyone will read it.)

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I was under the impression that the real “psychological barrier” was that most of the power needed to really change things was in the hands of sociopaths (either individuals, institutions or big companies).

And to be honest, I’m pretty pessimistic on our chances to stop global warming through information, as I think most people won’t really care as long as they’re not directly impacted. To me that means that only drastic and very unpopular measures can do a difference (like huge taxes on climate-warming energy, worldwide), and that’s not gonna happen.


This is one of the very few number of issues where the appeal, “think of the children!” is actually appropriate. And yet it would seem that persons who use this appeal, with regards other issues, never apply it to global warming. This is possibly due to one or all of the ‘Ds’. It’s a difficult issue to comment on or discuss in everyday situations I feel. If you tell your friend the positive steps you yourself have taken to try to reduce your ‘carbon footprint’* you may be perceived as being ‘superior’ or ‘holier than thou’ and if you raise the issue in terms of the science itself, it can be quite dry and boring. I don’t really know where I’m going with this… it’s one fuck of a situation.

*I don’t really like that term. May I propose we use the term “earth-fuck factor” or “terra termination total”.


This will be where I’ll say thanks a shitload @atl for recommending Cadillac Desert. I got halfway through chapter one, and have already taken a serious hit to the semi-delusional faith in humanity I’d mustered in order to feel better about bringing my daughter into the world in the next week or so… After that reading, the devastation of climate change does feel like just another turd (and not even the most immediate turd) on the turd-pile of ways we’ve fucked ourselves into a environmental corner.

My takeaway (again, just from the first chapter) is that we don’t do a whole helluva lot around here unless is involves religious nuts, porkbellies, or the army corps of engineers getting a hard-on over the next mission impossible man-vs-nature adult-lego project like draining swamps, building levies and irrigating deserts. This adds to my creeping suspicion that we aren’t predisposed to doing anything to avert the devastation. There is much more money to be made on the back end of problems like this, creating, marketing and selling products and services that ameliorate the results of previous destruction. A problem isn’t a problem, it’s a market niche, and an opportunity for economic growth. As long as the destruction caused by climate change boils us slowly like a frog in a pot, we’ll be able to just slowly adjust to the new reality, all the while buying solutions to the symptoms.

I think the last paragraphs make a lot of sense here. Making averting climate change into a positive, sexy, exciting, power-of-humanity-affirming moon-shot-like engineering project seems like the only way to go. Asking for anything that looks like personal restraint, self-reflection, historical context, or big-picture thinking is going to be a loser. In our current political climate, averting climate change is also going to have to get somebody (or many somebodies…let’s say about 1% of the population) very rich, or it’s not going to be allowed to happen without a grassroots effort not often seen in the history of man for such a widespread, difficult-to-understand problem.

Phew, I feel a little better.


Our economic system depends, or at least believes it depends, on constant growth in production and consumption – which means growth in energy and resource use and waste. We are screwed until that system changes, or at least until it loses all political power.

I expect the catalyst for that change will be economic collapse and/or large-scale human tragedy, triggered by ecological disaster. We need to slow the train down, but the only way that’s happening is for it to jump the track.


I agree about most of this.

We seem to have a rich repertoire of ways to avoid changing the behaviors that belong to our sense of self.

No kidding! That seems to basically sum up why people act against their (and everybody else’s) best interests with regards to… practically everything.

The obvious solution seems to be to dispense with having a “sense of self”, but most complain about this. The “powers that be” all count on using this to herd people like lemmings. Losing a falsely-constructed personal self, or a society-imposed self - can only help when it comes to acting effectively. It might only be a first step, but it might be the most important one.

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Humanity is Earth’s ego and we’re alcoholic and in denial. Just one more drink…


Having just been in a heavily Muslim country where the gardens and museums all reference climate change as real, I know religion doesn’t have to be the problem. It just is, in the U.S. That’s fixable.

And big business isn’t necessarily unmovable, either. Insurance companies are already aware that it is going to affect their bottom line severely, and you can’t get much bigger or more conservative than that industry.

I think emphasizing the “God told us to be guardians of this Earth” angle for religious types and “whoa, this is going to cost us a lot of money” angle for business types will work, it’s just going to take us hitting whatever is perceived as rock-bottom for each of those groups first before we really start to move in the right direction as a whole culture.


Sociopaths are certainly in charge, but people in general put them there. So the problem is more broadly distributed than just the minds of the regnant bastards.

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Peoples all over the world desire cheap, abundant, reliable energy.

They don’t desire it because they are under the influence of secret mind control rays emanating from the basement of BP/Exxon/Aramco/Gazprom.

They desire it because cheap, abundant, reliable energy has consistently been the one thing that works best at lifting people out of poverty and improving their standards of living.

To the extent that climate change action is perceived as taking cheap, abundant, reliable energy away from those who have it - and preventing those who don’t have it from ever getting it - that action will not succeed.


Carry on. You’re approach would be.?


It seems to me that we could have addressed this back in the 1970’s, when government regulation was used to get rid of CFCs and Freon and all sorts of dangerous chemicals. Sure, there was pushback at the time, but the pushback failed, and the folks who predicted a New Communism if industry was regulated proved wrong. People got rich inventing new, greener propellants and coolants.

But 40 years of Republican framing have got most Americans thinking that government regulation of industry is bad and wrong and it never works and socialism. In that climate, there is simply no solution.


I’m partway through Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything” on this issue. It’s typical Klein, and typically somewhat infuriating to the extent the she wears her heart on her sleeve; but she’s smart, and I’d recommend it for a pop-sociological, rather than pop-scientific take on the subject.

You’ve got it. Energy is wealth. Anything that slows or stops the development of energy sources stops people from gaining wealth. This means stopping people from increasing the quality of health care, or even getting it. It means stopping the advance of the green revolution. It means slowing or stopping innovation in just about every area.

Intervening in energy production and innovation is no small thing. Intentions are irrelevant. This isn’t a class project, real people are suffering and dying now because they lack enough or any energy.

Bjorn Lomborg has a great talk, mid 2000s, about big problems and how best to address them. He has a story he tells about a Bangladeshi in the year 2100 who is by today’s standard upper middle class. This future bourgeoisie asks why people of our era worked so hard to help him, a wealthy man, and ignored his grand father who barely had enough to eat.

I think this is the current scenario. This is what all of these grand schemes to interfere in energy markets are doing. But really when you interfere with energy markets you’re interfering in all markets and industries.

Environmentalists and other fear mongers essentially stopped the nuclear energy revolution in the late 70s. If not for them one can easily imagine the world of 2020 a place of abundant clean energy. Who knows how much further technology would have progressed with clean, inexpensive energy. How many more minds would be participating today if their parents or grand parents had access to more energy.

To the apocalypse fetishists the sky is always falling. Mankind is saddled with the original sin of existing thus all of our actions are doomed to failure.

As a smart person recently said- if you’re not promoting nuclear energy you’re not serious about climate change.

Yep, all the rethuglican Jesus lover’s fault… with all respect partisan politics, imho, is an example of letting the hind brain gain control. But that’s just me.

As for government intervention I agree, there’s no industry or market that can’t be made more efficient by adding layers of bureaucracy. Allowing lawyers to run them is even better.

Endless regulations are just another way to control markets and industries. But why argue against it? I mean the history of command economies has shown they result in heaven on earth.

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Instead of pop-psychology (I mean “eco-psychology”… wait, is that really a thing?), and the “five Ds” (I wonder how they translate into Swedish?), it would probably be better to describe the obstacles in terms of real cognitive biases that have a wealth of academic research behind them. Instead this sounds like some sort of daytime-TV, Chicken-soup-for-the-environemntalist’s-soul sort of pablum.

Well, let’s run with this theory a bit. If I’ve been getting along pretty well with 2500 calories per day, clearly I should increase my intake fourfold; at 10,000 calories per day I’ll have much more energy and a much better life. If my car gets 30 miles per gallon, I can increase my well-being by driving around in a large truck that gets six miles per gallon. Maybe I can hot-rod it and use even more fuel. My house – how about a hundred-room house? Obviously, bigger is better. And together with my fellow citizens, I can push for more and bigger wars; they use a lot of energy. Burn, baby, burn!


But it’s guilty of lèse-Capitalisme, so it’s not going anywhere. You cannot disparage the reigning faith.


The discussion of psychological barriers to climate action remind me of the discussions of the psychological barriers to organizing for social revolution. But, that’s because it’s literally the same thing.

GDP per capita in the US has more than doubled since 1973, but living standards have remained static. There remains only a pretense that this runaway, destructive process of capital accumulation actually offers any benefits to ordinary people. Yet we’re desperate to maintain the pretense.