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WEBCAST: George Marshall on Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

An interview with George Marshall, one of the founders of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, and the author of a groundbreaking new book called Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.

Why, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, do we still ignore climate change? And what does it need for us to become fully convinced of what we already know?

This fascinating and entertaining book is about how we think, or don't think, act, or don't act about climate change.

George Marshall's search for the answers brings him face to face with Nobel Prize-winning psychologists and the activists of the Texas Tea Party; the world's leading climate scientists and the people who denounce them; liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals. This is the product of several years thinking and research, interviewing a great many people about their feelings on climate change. George talks in one chapter of "cognitive error on a vast scale" and "flawed psychological processes".

The structure of the book is short chapters with catchy titles, making it an entertaining and easy read, as well as thought-provoking.

George argues that once we understand what excites, threatens, and motivates us, we can rethink and reimagine climate change – it is not an impossible problem, but one we can halt if we can make it our common purpose and common ground.

He believes that it was a major error in policy terms, when global warming was first discovered, to make a distinction between climate warming gases and fossil fuel extraction, because it focussed legislation on the wrong target.

Cities are one of the main theatres of action on climate change and there are many initiatives taken by mayors, such as in New York City, independently of national policy. In fact many mayors collaborate in organisations such as C40. George discusses in the interview whether action at this level is more effective than at national level.

He tackles the question of the psychological tactics we should ideally employ to mobilise action, including borrowing rhetorical devices from religious movements and adopting the conviction and the sense of community and shared purpose that goes with religious experiences – particularly evangelism.

The book contains very funny passages, such as the description of a campaigner for the conservation of swordfish eating swordfish in a restaurant when off duty. He ascribes this type of behaviour to a kind of stress release mechanism that he also finds among climate scientists who take regular flights. He says that in behaving like this they are "being the change they want to see" by acting out an imagined world in which they can both do their job and do the other things they like.

This book will provoke much-needed and essential new angles on thinking about what constitutes effective action to tackle climate change. The video contains insights not necessarily in the book.

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