Threat to the climate? – Our brains!

Threat to the climate? - Our brains!

We install LED lights in our house and then we step with a clear conscience in the aircraft for a holiday in Thailand.

Our brains and hearts are the biggest obstacles towards more sustainability. Technology is not the issue.

That concludes Scientias in an interview with the Norwegian psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.


From the article of Scientias:

“(…) Why do we resume to take actions, while many scientists agree on climate change? Stoknes explains why we are so passive,

“We know that something is going on, but we are not able to do the right things. This leads to an internal conflict, also called cognitive dissonance. This effect occurs when behavior, emotion and cognition (knowledge) are not aligned, and is one of the main reasons that many people ignore climate change, or deny it. “(…)

We all emit CO2 in various activities (behavior). Our brains know that CO2 causes climate change (knowledge). This realization is uncomfortable, because nobody wants to deliberately destroy the earth (emotion). However, as clean alternatives are hard to find, our behavior will not change and we remain in this dilemma, unless we think adapt to our actions.

Denial is self-defense


“For example, we try to reduce our guilt by saying that our footprint is not so bad compared to that of the USA or China, or from fossil fuel companies. Or we doubt the facts: “Last week it snowed. So what about this global warming?

Or we install LED lights in our house and then we step with a clear conscience in the aircraft for a holiday in Thailand.

Or, the most extreme form, we do not believe that there is even such a thing as climate change because of our pollutions. “This denial comes not from stupidity, but is a self-defense mechanism against the inner conflict that would act differently. (…)


A major reason that we see the environment as an unsolvable problem, is because of how it is communicated.

80% of the news about climate describes ominous events such as natural disasters. This leads to fear and to hopelessness or denial, because it feels like we can do nothing about it.

Only 2% of the news is reframed in a positive way on climate and describes possibilities and opportunities.

“If we could communicate in a different way on the climate, it would be much easier and more logical to people to take action. (…) ‘


Stoknes gives some suggestions:

  • Brains: Scientists need to communicate much more clear about the changing climate
  • Make the best choice of standards easy
    for example: default printing on both sides
  • Heart: Make it attractive
    in the United Kingdom, house insulation rose dramatically when subsidy also offered a furniture moving company to empty the attic temporarily
  • Brains: Solutions often ask sacrifices. Prioritize benefits
    Sustainable cars, house insulation, efficient appliances are often expensive.
    Present the profits clearly.
  • Hearts: Use the social environment. The influence of environments are huge.
    Stop the silence

College by Stoknes

The USC Schwarzenegger Institute and the USC Environmental Student Assembly host author and organizational psychologist Per Espen Stoknes, PhD, who discusses his book: What We Think About When.


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