Climate and Cognitive Science at Odds: Don’t Think of Fossil Fuels

The International Day of Climate Action met its mission, in part, by drawing out at least 350 environmental advocates to San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza on Saturday. Hosted by 350.org, the event’s statement: “inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis—to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet,” inspired this constituent to review social movement theory to figure out why the event had such little impact.

Climate action participants mix their messages.

Climate action participants mix their messages.

Activists from other social movements weakened the message of lowering our carbon emissions to 350 part per million (we’re currently around 390). Women’s reproductive rights is an important stand alone issue, and becoming a vegan is beneficial for the environment, but mixing these messages only served to confuse the public. Perhaps staying on point would have helped this climate action movement to build a stronger base.

Inspiration came from San Francisco’s City Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi who unfortunately never removed his sunglasses while addressing the shaded plaza. This had the effect of reducing his credibility and his impassioned remarks sounded more like the typical left wing rant you would expect in the Bay Area. It’s unfortunate that Mirkairimi’s accomplishments (he has many to be proud of) were not told to the crowd before he opened his mouth.

Urgency came from automobile drivers unable to get to their destinations while a pedestrian and bike brigade temporarily stopped traffic — one driver claimed she was trying to get to the hospital. This effort to create a possibility of unity around our climate crisis appeared only to create annoyance, inconvenience and discomfort.  People don’t change their behavior when they’re annoyed.

The rally cry; “From coal and oil, To wind and sun, This power shift, Has just begun” led the movement through the plaza but was reduced to a murmur by the time the participants crossed the street to the Ferry Building. The chant fell victim to a classic cognitive science rule: don’t demand renewable energy inside the frame of fossil fuels. By invoking coal and oil before wind and sun, fossil fuels remain in the forefront of the mind. A shift in thinking occurs by invoking what you want, not what you don’t want. Being against coal and oil will not power a movement toward the wind and sun.

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1 Comment

Filed under Cooperation not Competition

One response to “Climate and Cognitive Science at Odds: Don’t Think of Fossil Fuels

  1. Janet Cooke

    Great blog – by making sun and wind standalone options, rather than “alternatives”, we might just really see the options in a different way – as a “new” source rather than a fix to the “foreign oil dependency” as politicians like to point out. In any transformation, it’s new thinking versus repairing existing thinking that rules! With the sunny and windy days of autumn that we have been enjoying in the Bay Area – just imagine the possibilities!

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