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Marshall (2014). Don’t Even Think About It.

Marshall (2014). Don’t Even Think About It. Why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. New York: Bloomsbury


“the reason why people do not accept climate change is nothing to do with the information – it is the cultural coding that it contains.” p23

“Attitudes on climate change … have become a social cue like gun control: a shorthand for figuring out who is in our group” p23

“rational scientific data can lose against a compelling emotional story” p24

“during our evolutionary development … being out of sync with the people around us carried a potentially life-threatening danger of ostracism or abandonment. There are, therefore, real and serious risks involved with holding views that are out of step with your social group and your brain is wired to give them greater weight than other risks” p27

“drawing too much attention to an undesirable norm can seriously backfire.”… “Environmental organizations never seem to learn this message.” p30

“The missing truth … in these enemy narratives, is that in high-carbon societies, everyone contributes to the emissions that cause the problem. … This is why I have become convinced that the real battle for mass action will not be won through enemy narratives and that we need to find narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests, and our common humanity.” p42

“.. the real story lies in our flawed psychology… Climate change isn’t the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant we’re all inside of.” p43

we “respond strongly to four key triggers… PAIN: Personal, Abrupt, Immoral, Now.” p47

“Daniel Kahneman: “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living.”” p 58


“Among r Republicans, the more people knew about climate change, the less likely they were to believe in it. Overall, climate deniers had a slightly better general understanding of science than believers.” p124

“As the Australian academic Clive Hamilton puts it, very elegantly, “Denial is due to a surplus of culture rather than a deficit of information.”” .. information does not change people’s attitudes”. p124

Environmentalists reinforce the “frames that can lead other people to marginalize and ignore climate change”. p130 ‘Earth Day’ shows what we are afraid of: lights going out! Not a useful image. p133.

“The problem … is that when people feel threatened and isolated, they can adopt a range of strategies to diminish their sense of internal fear: denail, uncertainty, playing down the threat, fatalism, and anger towards the communicator.” p.139

Bright-siding – just optimist thinking – is “ultimately a regressive narrative that validates existing hierarchies”. p149

How to win a heated debate? By using “stories and social cues reinforced by humor”. p152. Environmentalists are often “judgmental elitists and hypocrites. Skeptics are relaxed and can enjoy life and have a laugh. .. Who would you rather have a beer with?” p153

Live earth didn’t build a movement. Ozone problem was solved but was different. “Frames do not just focus the attention: they define the areas for disattention. [Ozone and acid rain frames are converted into climate framing and] defined climate change as an environmental issue and therefore not a resource, an energy, an economic, a health or a social rights issue. … But the largest, most extraordinary, and damaging misframing of all acquired from the precedents of ozone depletion and acid rain was that climate change could be defined entirely and exclusively as a problem of gases.” p166-167.

“The focus on tailpipe gases and disregard for wellhead fuels had been the single most important factor in all government and policy framings”. p 168

“.. a policy on climate change that ignores production of fossil fuels is like a policy on drugs that ignores the poppy fields, cocaine labs, smuggling networks, and dealers and focuses exclusively on the addicts.” p170 !!

Has the focus on tailpipe (gases) been intentional? “this discussion has never taken place.” 170

Children-framing? Doesn’t help. “The attitudinal research suggests that people who have children are no more concerned about climate change than anyone else – indeed, possibly less so.” p189

Personal responsibility campaigns “did not actually work”. p194 “As soon as one creates responsibility, one creates blame. Blame creates resentment. .. What none of us fully appreciated at the time was how readily these anodyne messages would be mobilized to fuel people’s sectarian prejudices.” p195 “Our willingness to make a personal sacrifice is entirely bound up with our sense of social identity”. p196 “What is urgently required, is a coherent policy framework that provides a contract for shared participation.” p197

Scientists are also dealing with anxiety (p198-). Scientists and activist use compartmentalization to deal with the stress. p.203.

Proof of the immense sub-surface stress / “Extinction is an emerging narrative around climate change” p206

“A survey of five hundred American preteens found that more than half felt the world was in decline and a third believed it would not exist when they grew up.”p206 !!

The Future of Humanity Institute gave a “19 percent probability that the hunan species will go extinct before the end of this century.” p207

Explanation: these widespread extinction narratives are a defense mechanism: “one that bypasses the entire issue of our moral responsibility“. p207

Climate change is probably subconsciously associated with death: “many of the standard responses to climate change… are all consistent with our responses to our fear of death.” p209

Religion, as a successful social movement, might offer models for climate action; it involves social group construction and ’emotional-brain commitment to action’. (p. 211-) Guilt appears a lot around climate change but “What is missing.. is forgiveness”. p224

Importance of conviction: we need to address the feelings of blame and guilt” p225

Climate change is exceptionally multivalent (see also Morton). p227

Shared conviction and social normes can lead to action easily. p229

Practical advice (p231-)

  • Emphasize that climate change is happening here and now (don’t create distance)
  • opportunity to restore past loss
  • Recognize moments of proximity
  • Creating the symbolic moment (extreme weather events)
  • Open up a conversation about long-term preparedness.
  • Build narratives of positive change
  • Resist simple framings and be open to new meanings (ie from tailpipe to wellhead)
  • Ensure that a wide range of solutions is constantly under review
  • Never accept your opponent’s frames
  • Create a heroic quest
  • Build a narrative of cooperation, Stress cooperation not unity
  • Be honest about the danger and Encourage positive visions
  • Emphasize that action on climate change makes us proud to be who we are
  • Enable communications with built-in interaction
  • Create communities of shared conviction
  • keep an open mind, alert to your own bias
  • Tell personal stories
  • Drop the eco-stuff, especially polar bears, saving the planet, and any other language that stakes out climate change as the exclusive cultural domain of environmentalism.
  • Never assume that what works for you will work for others
  • Mourn the end of the fossil fuels age
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