climate change and going beneath the surface

It’s an interesting moment in the field of climate change and psychology.

Almost weekly, a new study emerges, demonstrating that yes, indeed, people are not motivated by information, and in fact there is massive evidence of concern, anxiety, caring about the threats of climate change (and ecological threats in general).

Such studies, while articulating the situation, do very little towards advancing us towards developing a strategy for actually engaging people to respond to our threatened ecosystems.

I believe this is because the psychology we are looking to is simply inadequate when it comes to generating a coherent strategy. This is because it is based on a model of the human psyche which is premised on cognitive behavioralism. The danger of basing our climate change psychology on cognitive behavioral psychology is suggested by British psychologist, Michael Billig:

Freud, as is well known, produced a multi-layered view of the human mind. He called psychoanalysis a ‘depth psychology’ because it examined ‘those processes in mental life which are withdrawn from consciousness.’ Behind the thoughts and wishes, of which we are aware, lurks a shadowed hinterland of secret desire. It is this sense of depth that distinguishes psychoanalytic views from most other psychologies.

Behaviourism posits no hidden secrets, merely chains of association and responses to outward stimuli, thereby according the human psyche all the depth of a pigeon. Cognitive psychologists envision the human mind as an extraordinary machine, processing, storing and combining information. The average human mind is seen to be many mega-bytes more powerful than the most sophisticated computer. At worst in this model, the human information-processor is to be criticized for taking lazy short-cuts in its computation of information. At best, there is a self-admiration, because the wonders of Microsoft still paddle way behind the software of our human brains. Complexity, however, is very different from depth. The computer has no sense of shame, only multiple programs and parallel processes.

Michael Billig, 1999

So. What must be done to advocate and advance a depth-approach to tackling human dimensions of climate change – this is the question we are presented with.

In my view, a depth approach is practical, potent and urgently needed in our organizations, management and how we conceptualize engagement and sustainability. Until we can appreciate the role of unconscious and social drivers that led us to avoid, minimize, deny and run away from our ecological threats – all of which are totally human responses to overwhelming data and experience – we shall spin in circles.

When we begin to apply a clinically informed approach to engagement, messaging, outreach for sustainability, we will begin to see results. We will design strategies and messaging that are sensitive to these ‘shadowy hinterlands.’

This is what I am doing. Contact me to learn more.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *