Readers seeking information on global warming will not find much here, but they would do well to dig into this lively, nonpolemical account of why the average person pays so little attention.
Veteran British environmental activist Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, travels the world interviewing climate change deniers as well as those working on the problem. His conclusions are unsettling, to say the least. Emotional stories always trump facts, and climate change lacks the inflammatory features of, say, abortion, atheism or gay marriage. Why has it provoked fierce opposition from a minority and indifference from the general public? Marshall lists three main reasons. 1) It lacks salience, or a demand for our immediate attention. In the Stone Age, threats were nearby and obvious. Our brains evolved to give high priority to proximity—a nuclear power plant, an abortion clinic—while distant threats are a hard sell. 2) It seems controversial to most observers even though (thanks to the media) one side may feature scientists and the other cranks. 3) It demands immediate sacrifices (lower living standards, tiresome regulations) to prevent a future disaster. President Barack Obama’s speeches on the subject, while admirable and necessary, never include practical steps. Reversing global warming requires government action, so U.S. opponents are overwhelmingly conservative. Yet exceptions exist. Responding to an electricity shortfall after the Fukushima nuclear power disaster, the Japanese voluntarily cut power use and sweltered without air conditioning. After 9/11, Americans yearned to make a personal contribution as they did in wartime. The author closes with “Some Personal and Highly Biased Ideas for Digging Our Way Out of This Hole.”
An insightful, often discouraging look at why climate control advocates have failed to get their message across and what they should do. Much of Marshall’s advice is counterintuitive (e.g., drop the apocalyptic rhetoric), but it rings true.