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Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

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A witty, insightful, and groundbreaking take on one of the most urgent questions of our time: Why, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, do we still ignore climate change?

Most of us recognize that climate change is real yet we do nothing to stop it. What is the psychological mechanism that allows us to know something is true but act as if it is not? George Marshall’s search for the answers brings him face to face with Nobel Prize–winning psychologists and Texas Tea Party activists; the world’s leading climate scientists and those who denounce them; liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals. What he discovers is that our values, assumptions, and prejudices can take on lives of their own, gaining authority as they are shared, dividing people in their wake.

With engaging stories and drawing on years of his own research, Marshall argues that the answers do not lie in the things that make us different, but rather in what we share: how our human brains are wired—our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats, our cognitive blind spots, our love of storytelling, our fear of death, and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe. Once we understand what excites, threatens, and motivates us, we can rethink climate change, for it is not an impossible problem. Rather, we can halt it if we make it our common purpose and common ground. In the end, Don’t Even Think About It is both about climate change and about the qualities that make us human and how we can deal with the greatest challenge we have ever faced.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published August 19, 2014

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About the author

George Marshall

2 books76 followers
George Marshall is the founder of Climate Outreach based in Oxford UK, and over the past 25 years has worked at all levels of the environmental movement including senior positions for Greenpeace US and the Rainforest Foundation.

He is one of the leading European experts in climate change communications, is a lead advisor to the Welsh Government and counts major environmental organisations, politicians, faith groups, businesses and trades unions among his clients.

And he loves reading and writing about comics!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 195 reviews
Profile Image for Shannon.
156 reviews17 followers
March 1, 2017
I made a decision to commit to finally understanding the climate crisis in 2017 (as in, the science, the precise risks, the politics, the necessary actions, the economics, etc.). It's only March 1st, and I think it speaks volumes that I now refer to it as "the climate crisis" rather than the way I referred to it in my New Year's Resolution, which was to learn about "climate change."

In my first month of reading, as I discovered the horror that is certain for humanity unless we make fundamental changes to...everything, I kept coming back to the same question: Given the science, and its reliability, and the terrifying future that we are hurtling toward, and the fact that the destruction of civilization is imminent, why the heck aren't more people freaking out??

This book appealed to me (and delivered) on two levels. First of all, it addresses that question from a psychological perspective (I was particularly interested in Marshall's chapter on why disaster victims are actually less likely to believe in climate change after living through Superstorm Sandy), from an economic perspective (So that's why Shell sponsors the exhibit on climate at the Smithsonian!), from a political perspective (not much different than the economic perspective in a post-Citizens United world), and from a rhetorical perspective (Environmentalists need to drop the polar bear costumes - they're actually making things worse). I definitely understand now, with much greater clarity, why more people aren't freaking out (though they should be).

That brings me to reason No. 2 that this book had my name written all over it: I teach AP Language and Composition, and this book is a primer on what makes a compelling argument and what does not. In short, environmentalists have failed - pretty miserably - at crafting a compelling narrative frame to mobilize the public to act on the climate crisis, largely because they've owned the issue and refused to broaden their frames (to, for example, religious groups' narratives of a responsibility to tend God's creation or to conservatives' narrative of a need to secure our country against threats). The final chapter provides a brilliant and succinct summary of how to construct an effective argument for action and details the pitfalls to avoid.

Basically, we need to widen the circle of people who identify with the issue and get it out of the terrain of "environmentalism" and into the terrain of "this is something that people like 'us' care about" - and "us" needs to be the average folks. Since, for example, military wives (a large segment of my "friend group") don't traditionally identify as "green," but most do care about clean water and saving money on their power bills, we have to open up the identity base on climate action in terms of whose issue this is (average peoples', not just a "hippie" or an "activist'" issue). One thought I had while reading is that perhaps I should co-opt my Facebook profile to post things like my sister getting solar panels installed on her roof or myself nearly dying of exhaustion biking a half-mile to the grocery store to show my "friend group" that this stuff is "what we do." Or, I could post pics of my average-people friends and me demonstrating for climate justice outside our NJ senators' offices (shout out to average-person friend Meg who did that with me despite the fact that it was 17 degrees). I see other friends co-opting their pages pretty successfully to sell Rodan and Fields beauty products and Stella and Dot jewelry, so why not give it a try? Anyway, that was just one way I saw Marshall's ideas might be put to immediate application in my own small circle to broaden the climate action base and normalize climate outrage.

Though the focus of the book is certainly on crafting a compelling narrative frame for climate action, Marshall's ideas could readily be applied to most any mobilization campaign, which, come to think of it, sounds like a pretty awesome final project for AP Lang. So, thanks, George Marshall, for an informative read and for writing in a subtly hilarious tone (a subject so terrifying requires levity), chock full of British humor and practicality.
Profile Image for Blair.
120 reviews81 followers
July 2, 2016
Looking in the Mirror at the Tea Party

George Marshall bravely steps outside of his role as a long-time environmental activist in order to understand why those who oppose him think the way they do. For example, he describes his visit to the “Tea Party” wing of the conservative movement after arriving there in the biggest SUV he had ever seen, telling us,

“It is easy to focus on differences, and certainly rural Texan Tea Partiers are quite unlike urban liberal environmentalists. But the real surprise for me was to discover that being with them felt entirely familiar. They have exactly the same boisterous, opinionated, autodidactic, and tribal spirit as grassroots environmental campaigners.”

He adds that they place great importance on information, and think the other side is controlled by vested interests. But should we be surprised that these two groups of information hungry individualists each arrive at a common view of reality within their groups, but very different between them? A good part of the book examines the working of confirmation bias to explain this result. It applies equally to activists on both sides.

Why Nobody Listens

“Environmental organizations shaped climate change in their own image with narratives, images, and metaphors drawn from their previous struggles… And so an issue that requires an unprecedented level of cooperation has become exclusively associated with one movement and its various worldviews. Those who have historically distrusted those worldviews came to distrust climate change.”

He gives many examples of how these insular narratives and images alienate the people they need to reach. For example, global warming is difficult to appreciate because the consequences are not immediate. So lets represent it by a polar bear on a piece of ice in the middle of nowhere. What could possibly be more remote from real life and concerns of ordinary people? This is literally polarization.

Then there is Earth Hour, where turning out the lights is promoted on a vast scale all around the world as a symbol for climate change. The inevitable response to what many see as a symptom of decline and decay: “It is always Earth Hour in North Korea.” If that is your vision of the future, many others would rather not think about it.

People evaluate information in the light of their own experience. In Western countries they have little experience of environmental or social collapse, but do have a large mental library of failed prophecies of collapse. It is these that most readily come to mind. We have heard these stories too many times before. Furthermore, people who hold the world to be just, orderly, and stable have a deep-seated loathing of this kind of apocalyptic messaging.

Other problems include using the “highly distrusted, international bureaucracy” of the United Nations to represent the science, and choosing Al Gore, “the most polarizing figure in U.S. political history,” as a figurehead.

So you wonder why nobody is listening? It is because you are only talking to yourselves.

Forgive Us For Our Sins

Near the end of the book Marshall devotes a few chapters to the effectiveness of religion as a motivator. This is fine if we want to reach out to religious people using the language and values they are comfortable with. But for him that is not enough. He fundamentally sees climate change as a moral issue. We must sacrifice for the common good, and only religion can motivate that kind of behavior. What will you tell your kids about your part in the climate wars? How do we handle forgiveness?

What? I am supposed to beg for your forgiveness? I can’t print my response to that, and I am a liberal who takes climate change seriously. Imagine how poorly this attitude will play in conservative territory.

Did he not just devote a good part of the book explaining why a global warming religion is exactly the insular thinking that is so counterproductive? Environmental activism already looks too much like a religion. He is not the first to want to harness the power of religion to achieve a political goal. It usually does not end well. Radical Islam is the latest incarnation of that long sad story. We do not need a new green chapter.

The Misguided Enemy Narrative

Marshall reminds us that corporations should not be seen as the primary enemy, only as one obstacle to the changes that need to be made.

“The missing truth, deliberately avoided in these enemy narratives, is that in high-carbon societies, everyone contributes to the emissions that cause the problem and everyone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi.”

“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.”

“This is not, of course, to ever suggest that those who obstruct political action or deliberately distort the science should be let off lightly or left unchallenged. Oil companies are not just passive energy providers, whatever they like to say. They actively interfere in the political process to protect their interests. However, neither are we blameless dupes. We willingly avail ourselves of their products and the extraordinary lifestyles they enable.”

The Morality of the Commons

The climate change problem is a classic case of what Garrett Hardin called the tragedy of the commons. However, Marshall calls this idea “an ideological polemic grounded in prejudice,” adding “Garrett Hardin’s deterministic model of human nature melds perfectly with the interests of authoritarianism and economic elites.”

This book is generally blessedly free of such rhetoric. So why is he so upset here? Because, “if climate change is a tragedy of the commons, it follows that appeals to responsibility and conscience are a waste of time and that, in Hardin’s words, only ‘mutual coercion mutually agreed on’ will work to curtail our insatiable personal interests.” It appears he is emotionally attached to viewing climate change as a moral issue, even though much of the book documents the many reasons why such moral appeals fail to achieve results.

This attitude shows in his interview with an engineer at Shell. When he is told, “We need the permission that society gives to us” to keep drilling for more oil, he sees moral hypocrisy. But the engineer is only describing reality. Corporations will continue to produce oil until they are made to stop. What is the engineer supposed to do, quit his job? It may make him feel good but it will change nothing. Is Shell supposed to stop drilling? Then Exxon will take up the slack. The only way oil production will stop increasing is if society withdraws its permission to do so. That can be done with a mechanism such as a carbon tax, or cap and trade. Shaming or demonizing companies will not work.

Apocalypse Soon

Ignoring his own advice from earlier in the book, his last chapter is an apocalyptic warning that we may get four degrees of warming by 2060. The latest IPCC report says the increase in the next seventy years with a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (transient climate sensitivity) is likely in the range of 1.0°C to 2.5°C. But he never does say much about the importance of telling the truth. I guess being morally right is more important. Never mind the impact on credibility.

Why You Should Think About Reading this Book

“I have come to see climate change in an entirely new light: not as a media battle of science versus vested interests or truth versus fiction, but as the ultimate challenge to our ability to make sense of the world around us. More than any other issue it exposes the deepest workings of our minds, and shows our extraordinary and innate talent for seeing only what we want to see and disregarding what we would prefer not to know.”

This book is well worth reading because it looks at so many things in a new light. The climate change issue involves everything from personal psychology to global economics, and he has original and innovative ideas about all of them. It seems to me that he has not fully absorbed the implications of what he is telling us. However, this book gave me a lot to think about, and he says it all very well. I thank him for that.
Profile Image for Linda.
122 reviews3 followers
October 20, 2014
George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change is both engaging and thought provoking.

At first glance, 42 chapters for a book of 260 pages seem excessive. As it turns out, the short chapters deliver the content in easy to read and digest segments.

Readers will have a chance to learn things like:

Why the word “we” might be more divisive than inclusive.
How the brain is like a Swiss Army knife.
Why there might be a more effective symbol for climate change than a polar bear.

Some ideas in the book will have readers nodding their heads and others might elicit comments like, “Hmm…I never thought of it that way.” or “Say it isn’t so.”

Read the whole review at: http://greengroundswell.com/dont-even...
Profile Image for L.G. Cullens.
Author 2 books75 followers
March 8, 2023
A very telling title. Why do stark cognitive divides abound in human societies, why are bridges so difficult to build, and where is this leading us? This book can improve your understanding, and may even cause one to question their own interpretations and attitudes.

Recommended reading.
Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,401 followers
September 7, 2019
This is a well-intentioned book that succeeds in giving good ideas about how to build a popular movement to confront climate change. The issue with it, however, is that it already feels somewhat dated. It’s not that climate change has ceased to be a problem; it has gotten much worse in the five years since the book was published. It is just that all the ideas and the previous decade and a half of attempts that the book runs through have all come to naught. There were many highly effective, aggressive attempts at galvanizing people around climate change in the early to mid-2000s. There were well-funded popular and elite culture initiatives that aimed to reach each and every person. In the end none of these succeeded in moving the needle on what matters in the end: creating a mass mobilization for a decrease in CO2 emissions. The book runs through the list of past failures and then games out other ways of nudging the fractious masses in a better direction. The dilemma is that for a problem like climate change, we don’t have unlimited time.

Marshall points out that we are wired to think of ourselves in tribal terms rather than as one species-wide collective. Since climate change impacts us piecemeal and is highly likely to trigger a Malthusian for resources, it is unlikely to change that self-perception. He makes a good point that climate should be moved out of the category of “environmentalism” and into something that recognizes how all-encompassing it is to everything that humans value. This is slowly beginning to happen in my opinion and should be recognized as a success. Framing it as an issue of distant tragedy, such as the deaths of Arctic polar bears, just does not galvanize people. Making it about their day-to-day lives, relationships, fears and hopes might. Even then, the natural inertia that arises when faced with an invisible, deniable, debatable (in bad-faith), time-bound catastrophe has proven to be a formidable obstacle.

The disturbing subtext of the book is that it is actually an argument against democracy. A society in which people saw themselves as subjects rather than citizens would be more ready to accept the potentially draconian sacrifices that climate change demands. They would not even be asked to volunteer them willingly as we are. Climate authoritarianism is not going to happen anytime soon in the West and any attempt to impose it right now would obviously be perceived as tyrannical. It is different in other places. In China, where the political system is already more authoritarian, people accepted one-child policies for decades and are now being subjected to top-down climate controls that are probably less personally onerous in comparison. As a result they are making much more effective gains in hitting their CO2 targets. This suggests that for the "wicked problem" climate change poses, authoritarian technocratic governance is more effective than mass democracy.

Marshall tries gaming out various ways to get people to come around and recognize the catastrophe staring them in the face. It almost feels like trying to find a way to convince a toddler to eat their vegetables. It hasn’t worked; at least on the time frame that we need. In the five critical years that have passed since this has been published we have not made anywhere near the progress we need to have. I think looking forward the most likely scenario is that some massive response will end up being privately devised, but one that asks as little as possible from Western public for fear of antagonizing them. The most obvious looks like attempts at climate geo-engineering, such as shooting sulfur in the atmosphere in the hopes of buying some more time. That is neither as safe or as empowering as the ideas in this thoughtful book.
Profile Image for Amalia Jane Mills.
37 reviews5 followers
May 10, 2021
Deeply sobering and extremely troubling.
Marshall helped me realise why we are so slow moving to act in the face of the climate catastrophe and to understand how we have got to the stage we are now. He writes a little towards the end on how we can appeal to those that refuse to “believe”, but there wasn’t as much practical advice as I had hoped.
I did also think he may have placed slightly too much emphasis on the individual’s role, but I do understand our own responsibility in accepting our personal contribution. He does go on to write that “acceptance, compassion, cooperation and empathy will produce very different outcomes than aggression, competition, blame and denial.” Which I think is important to remember, especially in a world where we often point the blame finger, seek out the villain and compare our sacrifices or activism to others.
My positive take-aways are “sometimes the act of CREATING THE SYMBOLIC MOVEMENT is far more important than it’s overall relevance”, which means that there is room and the need to incorporate and appreciate a “spectrum of approaches”. A reminder that there is no one singular way to combat climate change and the most important thing is we communicate honestly with each other and come together to cooperate.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,777 reviews1,262 followers
January 13, 2017
Book consisting of lots of very short chapters – each examining different reasons as to why climate change has not gained wider acceptance and even if it has, has not lead to any action. The author spends times with a lot of different groups including sceptics and deniers, as well as climate change advocates, environmentalists and climate scientists as well as groups such as Christians and natural disaster survivors. Periodically the author recaps what his conclusions are so far. An interesting book, with a different angle, with at times equal criticism of both sides even though its clear the author strongly believes in climate change (and often a conclusion that the confirmation biases and group thinks, plus lack of empathy with opposing views on each side of the debate are similar).

One strength of the book is the shortness of each chapter, a weakness is the extreme volume of chapters so that although each chapter is very clear and easily absorbed, the overall message is by contrast muddled or overwhelming.
Profile Image for Tucker.
Author 25 books186 followers
September 14, 2014
A fine new contribution that explains a good deal about what makes climate change such an intractably difficult issue to have a reasonable conversation about. There is a long post at Disruptive Dissertation about this book. By the way, who is going to People's Climate March in New York City on 9/21/2014? 350.org has dozens of buses leaving from Boston plus a waiting list of hundreds of people. They are getting more buses. I hope everyone reads Don't Even Think About It before the march because it will be useful.
Profile Image for Rou Reynolds.
14 reviews140 followers
October 14, 2015
Great insight into human psychology when confronted with the reality of climate change. Concise and easy to read with the odd humorous anecdote. Good interviews with a wide range of people and explanations into their position. Some interesting revelations for the communication of climate science to the public and suggestions of ways to galvanise folk more.
Profile Image for Rachel.
723 reviews12 followers
February 17, 2015
Don't Even Think About it isn't a book about the science behind climate change; it's a book about why people don't believe the science behind climate change. Marshall delves into the psychological reasons why people don't believe in climate change as well as why the current strategies to try and get them to believe aren't working. He interviews high-profile people on both sides of the debate. His dry wit keeps the book from becoming too depressing.

I listened to the audio version of this book. The narrator, John Lee, has a British accent which makes sense because Marshall is British. He has a jolly sounding voice which also serves to keep the book from becoming too depressing. He did a great job of bringing Marshall's wit to life.

Some have said that this book is preaching to the choir - that only people who already believe in climate change will read it. That may be true but this is still a valuable book to gain insight into what is going on in the deniers heads and how to structure the message of climate change in a way that might possibly change their minds. If climate change is an issue near and dear to your heart, then this is the book for you.
March 20, 2015
I've been totally baffled about why so many people are so devoted to denying climate change. It isn't (shouldn't be) a political or religious issue. It is simply a matter of humans taking a very wrong road paved with oil and gas and being willing to follow the road right over the cliff of extinction rather than redirect ourselves to using less energy and making sure that energy is clean and renewable. Seems like common sense to me! This book helped me understand the denier mindset and the need to communicate the urgent need for climate change mitigation to other constituencies in their own languages and in terms of their own values. And we better do it fast because we are now following the fossil fuel road to a 4 degree (or worse) increase in global temperature. The scientific consensus is that that is incompatible with human life. We all have one thing in common: we would like our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to reach old age.
Profile Image for Margaret.
56 reviews2 followers
April 16, 2015
Don't even think about not reading this important book.
Profile Image for Aurelian Cotuna.
28 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2022
This was a life changing book. Untill I had the chance to read it, I was not aware of the real danger of climate change.
After reading it, I am starting to think about it more and more.
Profile Image for Ryan.
990 reviews
February 16, 2020
In Don't Even Think About It, George Marshall tries to figure out how climate change should be communicated. The book is often interesting, so here are some random notes, as opposed to a comprehensive summary.

Narratives beat facts, and people want a worldview they can find themselves in.
"People evaluate new information in the light of their recent experience. In rich Western countries they will have little available experience of environmental or social collapse, but they will have a large mental library, often in the form of polished stories, of failed prophecies of collapse. It is these that most readily come to mind."

I suspect this point is underrated by people advocating for responses to climate change. And yet, I also think of Klein's Capitalism vs. Climate and how people who study climate change and realize the challenges it poses often look away as quickly as they can. I also think about Mann's Wizard and the Prophet, particularly that the prophets often motivate the mitigating change that prevents the catastrophe.

I wonder if there is no cannonball narrative that will universally motivate a response. People seek comfort in the face of existential threat; they seek confirmation that their values are correct; they seek escape from unpleasant feelings; they want to get rich off the system and get out; they're too lazy to change; they aren't sure what to change; they can't afford to change; the West should change because their countries were built on carbon; the developing world should change because it produces a majority of carbon emissions today; the rich should change; climate change will be awful but not for me. Is there one message that can reach all of these people? There's a moment in Louv's Last Child in the Woods in which he discusses the moment that connected significant and influential conservationists to the wild. For one person, it was shooting a pellet gun at sea gulls. To some extent, isn't the goal just helping people to get on a sort of metaphorical ladder?

There is a consideration of religious belief that I think may be ignored or under considered by readers. Marshall considers Mitt Romney, who grounds his life on stories from centuries ago but who finds climate science a bit tenuous. What explains this? I found myself thinking of Haidt's Righteous Mind, particularly the parts in which liberals are sometimes blind to the values that drive conservatives. When people like Louv call for a deep connection with the environment or the world that we live in, how far is this transcendent moment from that mystical aha that the religious so value?

On carbon capture. "There are currently [2014] eight large-scale CCS [carbon capture and storage] projects and eight more under construction, which, between them, will soon be storing thirty-six million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. This sounds promising until one considers that we will need sixteen thousand more plants on this scale to deal with current emissions." Marshall argues that oil companies express enthusiasm for CCS because it causes the audience to focus on consumption rather than production. He uses an analogy to show that governments limit drug use by attempting to reduce both production and consumption. He cites Thomas Schelling's argument that governments could regulate oil production but choose not to.

I spoke with a friend of mine who teaches economics this morning. On the control of demand, he noted that it would raise the price of oil, which could incentivize development. But then I wondered if we all stopped using oil in one part of the planet, wouldn't that reduce the cost of oil and incentivize consumption? Marshall notes that climate change is a 'wicked problem,' which is a fancy way of saying that it's really frustrating. And yet, emissions keep rising.

The book is good, but very few books have such useful endings. Marshall summarizes his conclusions in the final chapter, "In A Nutshell," then outlines what four degrees celsius will look like (will it arrive by 2060 or will it arrive a little later?), and then includes what I felt was a very useful list of books for additional reading.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,505 reviews41 followers
August 2, 2017
I liked this book quite a bit. Marshall has taken an interesting angle on looking at climate change, the way we think and talk about it, and why we don't act on what we know. From his perspective, we are telling the wrong story about climate change, emphasizing the wrong things if we want people to take it seriously and act accordingly.

His short chapters and straightforward style make this an easy-entry book to read.

Just some tidbits that struck me.

"The missing truth, deliberately avoided . . . is that in high-carbon societies, everyone contributes to the emissions that cause the problem and everyone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or write their own alibi." [p.42]

" . . . 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." [p.42]

"If global warming were caused by eating puppies, millions of Americans would be massing in the streets." (quoting Daniel Gilbert, Harvard) [p. 47]

"The impacts of climate change are hardly in the future either. I write this after the 350th month in a row that is warmer than that month's historical average." [p. 63]

"If, however, climate change is regarded as an active and informed choice, it feels far more like being a volunteer in the medical research. Imagine, for example, that you are offered an immediate boost in your current standard of living if you agree to pass on an irreversible disruption of the world's weather systems to your children . . . How much more income would you like to receive for that?' [p.70]

"The journalist Ross Gelbspan interviewed six U.S. energy and oil company presidents . . . All but one agreed that climate change was happening . . . they admitted, off the record, that the competitive environment forced them to suppress the truth about climate change and ensure that those regulations do not happen." [p.180]

"It is much harder to argue one's innocence when one knows that one's actions are causing harm. . . is it any surprise that most people do everything they can to avoid learning about it [climate change] or accepting that it exists?" [p.184]

" . . . I prefer to use the word conviction - to indicate a condition of strongly held opinion, reached through a personal evaluation of the evidence." [p.212]

"Build a narrative of cooperation . . ."
"Activate cooperative values rather than competitive values. Stress what we have in common."
"Relate solutions to climate change to the sources of happiness."[p.234-5]

Profile Image for Ben Thurley.
440 reviews23 followers
March 30, 2016
Don't Even Think About It is a sprightly-written cornucopia of insight into the pitfalls and potential of communicating about climate change. Not as pessimistic as the title and subtitle might suggest, Marshall argues that we are both wired to ignore a problem like climate change (distant, abstract, without clear villians) and that we are wired to respond – capable of putting aside short-term self-interest for quite heroic collective efforts in the face of a shared problem or threat.

Over all, the work has a particular focus on evolutionary psychology and sociological understandings of communally-constructed identities, discourses and silences. Each bite-sized chapter is a sharp and insightful exploration of a different aspect of the challenge of communicating and generating effective responses to the challenge of climate change. For example, why talking about climate change in the context of a "natural disaster" might be counterproductive, why environmentalists might be the worst messengers for a call to action on climate change, how language choices and "frames" make us more or less likely to respond well, or how the science communication environment has become "polluted" with conflicting personal, political and cultural meanings attached to climate change.

There aren't always clear-cut answers, but Marshall's engaging style and wide engagement with people and topics across a range of disciplines and perspectives, means that you are constantly stimulated to think more deeply about the questions. Marshall does offer a chapter of "some personal and highly biased ideas for digging our way out of this hole" which is a little disorganised but still highly stimulating and provocative.

This is probably the best and most accessible introduction I know of to the dense and incredibly complex intersection of politics, psychology, ethics and sociology that is to be found around climate change messages and responses. (And the further reading and in-chapter references help you delve further into the source material.)

Ultimately, Don't Even Think About It is a hopeful work, posing conundrums and challenges for climate campaigners (which is now all of us in one way or another) to work on in service of a fairer and more sustainable future of all.
Profile Image for Christian.
277 reviews24 followers
January 31, 2019
As I read more about the Climate Crisis I start to wonder more why it is that this isn't one of the main things we talk about. The seriousness of this crisis is pretty much historically unparalleled and while there are obvious reasons why we don't talk about it (such as the concentrated efforts of rich powerful people, and the desire to not lose our lifestyles) none of these seem to be big enough to explain the sheer amount of inaction we are committing.

The answer is of course that there are a ton of reasons why we don't talk about the Climate crisis; some of these are the fault of miss-framing such as overstating personal responsibility (although that is a big part) while understating the responsibility of the government and fossil fuel companies; at one point he mentions that we wouldn't frame drugs as being only the fault of the addicted and act as though the dealer was an innocent party. It's an interesting problem because our involvement in it is measurable and we're all to blame to some degree, but at the same time it's easy to feel entirely helpless to stop it.

Marshall does a good job examining this from pretty much every angle and in talking about tactics that could be used to try to convince people. The second last chapter is a pretty rousing and encouraging call to action saying that he truly believes we can not only save this world, but make a better one. Which makes the final chapter all the more heartbreaking and painful when he in a very matter of fact way explains how bad the situation is. As he is explaining that we could hit 4 degrees by 2070 or 2060 and 8 by the end of the century it's pretty hard to keep the optimism from the chapter before. It's an odd choice to end the book that way, considering that he said not to use apocalyptic language. It left me pretty miserable, but it isn't really Marshall's fault that the situation is dire. I'm feeling pretty discouraged by this one, and I don't think that was his intent.
Profile Image for Jennie Richards.
47 reviews5 followers
May 8, 2019
Marshall’s interesting and important book reveals the many narratives that climate change deniers and believers have through 42 interesting, bite-size chapters. Each of these chapters drill down into an analysis of the common narratives about climate change, and the reasons why people either choose to accept or deny the science of climate change. But of all the narratives discussed in the book, the most powerful and loudest one he says – is the collective social norm of silence. Marshall’s extensive interviews include leading scientists, journalists, economists, progressive and conservative leaders, environmentalists and everyday citizens across all walks of life. Through his synthesis of research, investigation and interviews, Marshall reveals some of our collective responses to climate change, including: how we surround ourselves with people that agree with us and seek to avoid disagreement; how the majority of people keep silent because they fear they are in the minority; how some people detach and distance themselves from complex and potentially life-threatening issues; how right-wing provocateurs and their rhetoric have threatened scientists and denigrated the profession; how fossil fuel companies make so much money that they control our government and the media and fund the “disinformation machine”; why people who have experienced catastrophic property loss from massive, record-breaking storms and fires still don’t and won’t talk about climate change; how political and media leaders have distorted the science for their own ends and purposes, and so much more. This very readable book goes beyond analyzing our human psychological responses and obstacles to climate change, to also provide ideas for ways that we can personally address climate change in our own lives; discusses what a 4-degree warmer world would look and feel like; and includes references and sources for further reading. I highly recommend reading this important book.
Profile Image for John Kaufmann.
629 reviews54 followers
November 6, 2014
This had a lot of good information about why a lot of people don't accept the reality of climate. Marshall draws upon the findings of cognitive sciences and evolutionary psychology to light his way. The fundamental argument is, "through our long evolution, we have inherited fundamental and universal cognitive wiring that shapes the way we see the world and interpret threats. Climate change has qualities that play poorly to these innate tendencies. It is complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, intergenerational, and, most challenging, requires certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against an uncertain longer-term loss." We are highly social beings, and we are more likely to accept information from people we trust. We are skilled at identifying potential enemies (threats), but climate change doesn't have enemies per se - we all are partly responsible. (But people aren't receptive to hearing that.) We respond better to clear issues with simple causes, whereas climate change is multivalent. And we respond more to narratives and stories than we do to facts and information. From these (and other) findings, Marshall generates a series of recommendations. All-in-all I thought it was a very sharp analysis.

My major critique is two-fold. First, I thought many (most?) of his recommendations were very general. I would have liked a little more specificity in the form of examples of how he would see them applied in real life. Second, his recommendations were not based on experience or tests to confirm their effectiveness - in other words, he didn't cite specific people or organizations that applied these recommendations, or provide either measured or anecdotal evidence as to how effective they were. Nonetheless, they do seem to address most of his findings as to why people don't accept climate change, and are worth trying.
Profile Image for Amy.
929 reviews46 followers
March 16, 2018
Don't Even Think About It was a book about the sociology, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology of climate change, rather than about climate change facts. Marshall focused primarily on the use of narrative to reach out to people and the use of close, trusted communicators to convince people to take action on climate change, rather than repeated repetition of fact. There was very interesting research cited from the fields of advertising, storytelling, and psychotherapy that climate change activists may find useful in reaching out to groups beyond the already existing environmental movement and research citing why that change needs to happen (Marshall cites studies which have, in detail, shown exactly what is wrong with current methods). All in all, Don't Even Think About It brought together useful information from a variety of otherwise far-flung fields and - if nothing else - it caused me to stop and think about how I can (1) actually talk to people about climate change and (2) talk to people about climate change in such a way that is likely to have positive effects on our actions.

That being said, there was one section of this book that bothered me. The two chapters on religions and what climate change activists could learn from them were...overly optimistic and ultimately misleading to say the least. I have no problem with Marshall pointing out the religious groups successfully manage a kind of group cohesion that climate change activists can only dream of, and that learning more about how that cohesion has come to be and trying to replicate it is both relevant and useful. My issue was with how he presented in the history of religion, the methods by which religions gather followers, and simultaneously doesn't even mention the potential risks of religious messaging.

Marshall states that the abrahamic religions should be studied because - unlike other religious ideas - they have endured and thrived in the marketplace of ideas for thousands of years. My response was: EXCUSE ME? Up until the invention of the printing press there was no 'marketplace of ideas' because pretty much all texts were censored by monasteries and the christian copyists who worked in them. Additionally - although Marshall does at least pay lip service to apologies for this one - christianity and islam (which Marshall extolls as the two fastest growing religions in the world) spread their belief systems not by convincing people to convert in a manner that we in the 21st century would find acceptable. They converted people at swordpoint or by other methods of coercion, then made life in which individuals spoke out against the religion impossibly difficult (if not completely impossible, as the historical record of murdered heretics shows) to create an atmosphere of everyone feeling isolated and having to play the game in order to live a passably decent for their time. I'm assuming Marshall is not attempting to convince climate change activists that this sort of behavior would be acceptable, which is probably why this was not a major example, but I don't understand why he even included it when the example is so flawed as to be not representative of the concept that he's trying to illustrate? This doesn't even take into account that the two fastest growing religions are growing quickly NOT because they are converting large numbers of people to their cause, but because the fundamentalist strains of those religions are virulently opposed to birth control and are significantly more likely to have large families than nonreligious people or even moderate/liberal religious people. That it is the fundamentalist sects of these religions that are growing is touched upon in about a half sentence, but the birth control and reproduction is not explained and a reader is left with the impression that these sects are especially good communicators and that climate change activists should study and emulate them, which is most certainly NOT the case.

Lastly, implying that everybody is religious or can be reached via religious institution is both small minded and alienating in its own way. There is a growing population of openly identified 'nones' in the United States (people who do not identify with 'any particular religion,' are simply 'spiritual,' or who are openly atheists, agnostics, or some other stripe of freethinker) and it had been documented that more liberal and moderate religions are finding that their number of followers are decreasing, not increasing. Unfortunately for Marshall, where a religious sect or group falls on the fundamentalist-moderate-liberal spectrum is important because it is the fundamentalists that are most likely to oppose climate change on the grounds of their religious belief but most likely to have the largest numbers of religious followers in coming years. Additionally, religiously charged climate messaging runs the risk of alienating religious individuals that are not part of that religion, part of that sect, or religious at all. Marshall pays so much attention to this concept in terms of politics and political group identification that I don't understand why he doesn't even mention that there are similar risks here.

Now that I've put my concerns with this presentation out there, let me be clear: I don't think climate change activists should ignore the way religions construct their narratives, the way religions recruit followers, or refuse to work with religious institutions. But climate change activists need to be aware of the state of religion as it is, how that state is likely change, and how historical practices have influenced the construction and spread of religious narratives. While these factors might seem small, they are vastly important in how they have shaped and will continue shape the religious landscape of the US and the world. Climate change activists need to be as informed as possible and plan accordingly, and I don't think Marshall's overly optimistic and ultimately misleading chapters on religion will assist them or the cause of preventing the worsening of climate change. It is why I have docked an otherwise excellent book by a star.
Profile Image for Mato Mauno.
16 reviews
February 16, 2022
An ebook with an important message. It dresses the core reasons in our inablity to deal with climate change and the actions required to slow it down.

However, as a book, it was slightly difficult for me. Partly cause it involved words that I didn’t always understand (and wasn’t always able to check cause didn’t know how to write them…) but mostly because many of the names, topics and scientific studies were so concentrated on the USA ( which in itself also represents another problem in trying to deal with climate change). And to be honest sometimes the topics felt a bit vague.

But the parts I was able to follow up to I really enjoyed and truly made me see entirely new levels in our society and its psychology in dealing with such problems as obscure as climate change. So yes, I recommend but I also suggest to read it a bit faster than I did, it was even more difficult to catch up when it had been a month since I last had read it.

(Plus: The readers voice was very pleasant!)
Profile Image for Dan Connors.
321 reviews44 followers
June 27, 2021
We've all heard the warnings. Our planet is warming due to the greenhouse effect, which is getting worse because of man-made carbon pollution. Greenhouse gases like Carbon Dioxide and Methane are keeping the sun's heat in, and as we keep adding more to the atmosphere, it will get hotter and hotter. Scientists are all in agreement that it is happening and the evidence from the last few decades show unmistakable trends all over the Earth of climate change, ice melt, and habitat destruction.

If all this is going on, why aren't more people talking about it? Why are politicians avoiding the topic and businesses only pretending to make a difference through climate theater? With the enormous stakes and challenges that global warming presents, why are we still stuck in a phony debate while clinging to fossil fuels like we always have?

These important questions are dealt with in this fascinating book by George Marshall. Marshall is a British environmentalist who has been at the forefront of the issue for 25 years. This book doesn't rehash all of the data and statistics on climate science, but instead looks into the human psyche and all of our cognitive biases that protect us from seeing the dangers that face us. Marshall calls global warming a "wicked problem", and looks at how humans tend to over-prepare for some disasters that never happen while ignoring hidden threats that don't fit their fixed mindsets.

If an alien species had a heat ray trained on earth and was rapidly warming the climate so that they could move in and take over, we would take quick and determined action to defeat them and destroy the heat ray. But with this wicked problem and there are no aliens- just us, and the heat ray isn't working rapidly, it's going ever so slowly, and like the frogs in gradually boiling water, we won't know what hit us until it's too late. Our defense instincts are stuck in the 20th century as we spend trillions on fighter jets, guns, and aircraft carriers. The real threats of the 21st century are turning out to be Mother Nature through pandemics, droughts, firestorms, and hurricanes, and we are devoting precious little time or energy to fighting them.

Marshall visits with victims of climate disasters in Texas and New Jersey, and they turn out to be even less likely to believe in global warming than people who haven't experienced natural disasters. Some of the states most threatened by extreme weather- Florida, Louisiana, and Oklahoma are also ones that elect politicians who are the loudest deniers of climate change science. He goes into an examination of cognitive biases like confirmation bias , hyperbolic discounting, and availability bias to try to explain why people refuse to accept the truth about what's threatening their homes.

The question that Marshall keeps coming back to over and over in this book is why isn't this being discussed more? Why is only one group of climate change believers such as himself worried about this while the rest of society ignores it? It all comes down to needing the right messenger for the message. Environmentalists have been pigeon-holed as tree-huggers and hippies for decades, and while most people say they care about the environment, they see the environmental movement as extreme and tend to discount most of their warnings as sensationalist. Global warming advocacy is dominated by many rich and famous celebrities like Al Gore, Bill Gates, Madonna, Jane Fonda, and half of Hollywood, all of whom fly private jets and live carbon-rich lifestyles that make them look like hypocrites. Then you have Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who is not a rich celebrity, but whose harsh rhetoric has turned off many who don't trust children to know anything of importance. The Green New Deal proposal from progressive activists is routinely mocked as a government takeover of energy and is a non-starter for many. And then there are the scientists- those pointy-headed know-it-alls who we suspect are probably right but who insist on not giving definitive predictions or exact timelines. The science of climate change is confusing for many, and the fact that any ambiguity exists at all is enough for some to shrug and say it's not a resolved theory (it is) and can be put off. Marshall's main take is that we need better communicators if the message is to get out to the deniers and skeptics that prevent any actions from taking place.

The book makes an interesting turn at the end proposing that climate change activists turn to the language of religion to make this a moral issue, not just an environmental one. Organized religion has the ability to reach people emotionally and prod them into action, and something like this could work for the climate crisis as well. Activists need to resist simple framing and create a heroic challenge with a narrative of cooperation and conviction using personal stories of struggle and redemption. Environmentalists need to stop preaching to the choir and instead try to reach the people who aren't getting how urgent this problem is. Reaching them will be an enormous challenge in this age of tribalism and polarization, but the stakes are high and there are many ways to look at the issues and questions without losing an audience.

One of the more interesting concepts that Marshall presents is that of the tailpipe and the wellhead. Most of our efforts today are in trying to control the emissions coming from our cars and factories- (the tailpipe), but no one is looking at cutting back oil and gas exploration and burning (the wellhead). Economies are still heavily dependent on cheap, carbon-laden energy. We will only get a grip on climate change if we can stop companies from pumping the stuff out of the ground, something that fossil fuel companies will be resisting with existential force as things get hotter.

A few other tidbits I got from this book:

- Climate had indeed been cooling for the last 2000 years, but that cooling has reversed to a warming trend starting with the industrial revolution (1900) onward. Climate deniers use this trend to confuse people and spread doubt.

- Noted climate skeptic and physicist Richard Mueller took on a climate study in 2008 that completely changed his mind after he saw the data. Climate deniers who had supported him dropped him and discounted his findings.

- The Smithsonian in Washington, DC has very little in its scientific exhibits dealing with climate change. David Koch and Shell Oil are huge contributors to museums and that causes them to steer clear of the entire controversy.

- Attitudes towards climate change in the US started to go downhill around 2007 with the financial crisis. When the economy goes bad, people's limited capacity for worry gets used up and climate change fades into the background.

- Carbon capture, or taking carbon directly out of the atmosphere, is our best hope of avoiding the greenhouse effect, but it is still hopelessly uneconomical. Unless this comes through, the only other hope is renewable energy and alternative fuels.

- Corporate America has been trying to shift the blame onto individuals when most of the big decisions are made by them. Recycling, electric cars, and energy-efficient light bulbs are nice but barely make a dent in the problem.

- People are losing sight of the future. Asking random people about what things will be like in 20 years brings about shrugs and pessimism. It's almost as if we've accepted our fate and are in denial about it at the same time.

The book closes with a dire warning about what could happen if mean temperatures go up as much as scientists fear- 4 degrees centigrade. At that level much of the earth will become unlivable with large crop declines and mass extinctions inevitable. Currently, it's estimated that global temperatures have warmed 1 degree since 1900 and fossil fuels first were used en-masse. The Paris agreement sets the goal of limiting it to 1.5 or 2 degrees for the rest of the century, but to get there a major restructuring of the economy has to begin NOW.

Global warming is both an urgent problem and one that's easily ignored. This makes it nearly impossible to solve given the level of denial that shows up in all levels of society. Books like this one at least ask the right questions, and hopefully more productive discussion will follow before it becomes too late.
Profile Image for Lawrence Bish.
22 reviews4 followers
March 18, 2015
Marshal does an excellent job of explaining the psychology of denial in a comprehensive and accessible language. Equally important, he offers examples and suggestions from his own experience and the experience and advice of thinkers and writers usually too esoteric for general public consumption. I wish this book had a snazzier cover to go with the entertaining style he uses to attempt to breach the communication barriers and ploys of those liars and cheats who know how the world works and use communication techniques to keep the lie going--some from their own denial bias' and blind spots, and some just because they love to cheat and lie because it feels good to get over on the whole world. Yes, there exist intelligent idiots who have the skill and talent to fool people and love to get on television and fool everyone. For the most part though, Marshall has interviewed a substantial and adequate range of conservatives and come away from that experience with a nuanced and forgiving attitude toward them. Very worthwhile read not only for a deeper insight into the environmental movement and it's failures, but as a door to communication theory and how to use it to improve the human condition--maybe save humans so we can have a condition.
11 reviews
March 2, 2017
I started with the last three chapters, and I was convinced with each passing day as I read it, this should be * required reading * for everyone who is passing on the 'green message'... and why it's not working.
a few takeaways that come to mind:
- 1. The environmentally-coded language is attractive to us in the in-group, but can be very alienating if you're not. I didn't realize this. (Chapter 24, following Michael Brune's comments.) )
- 2. Therefore greenies need to let go of the message and allow for messengers from the opposing sides in-group have the floor, even if their arguments are uncomfortable for us. ("pro-life means being caring for the future unborn children by caring about climate change.") For example, look up evangelical climate change activists, (you'll find some of them under Creation Care).
- 3. Climate change is depressing with lots of guilt and very little 'forgiveness'. (p223)

REQUIRED READING. :-) At least check out the ToC or book preview while you think about it. Also the last summary chapter is available in full on the book website.
17 reviews
February 25, 2015
I've always wondered why it is that people don't believe in climate change, and why it's even become a thing to believe. This book explores the psychology of non-believers and has helped me to understand how best to approach the issue in my work as an environmental scientist.

Interesting observations are made such as why terrorism with a 1% chance of happening is more greatly focused on by politicians than a 90% chance of catastrophic planetary systems failure. How belief and religion can often trump common-sense. Perhaps we should create a "Church of Climatology" and entice people in.

The problem is wickedly complex, and each and every person will respond to data differently. One thing is for sure, we as scientists should be working to communicate with the public in different media, and we should certainly be changing the language. The public does not understand "uncertainty" and we should stop beating around the bush and be as assertive and confident in our models as economists!
232 reviews
October 17, 2016
A really excellent analysis of how we are reacting to climate change in the US and around the world, including the road blocks to adequately communicating about this "wicked" problem. Since climate change does not check any of our human mental boxes for issues that we must address immediately--i.e., it is not dangerous to me right now, and effects are remote in both location and time--it is all too easy for us to put it on the mental back burner. Since it is an apparently overwhelming problem even to those who acknowledge that climate change is occurring, and any contribution made by one individual would be infinitesimal, why not just continue on with business as usual? This book reviews all of the reasons why we ignore climate change, and proposes ways to better communicate the importance of taking action today.
Profile Image for Lucile Barker.
275 reviews23 followers
August 24, 2016
109. Don’t even think about It: Why our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall
Marshall posits that even when we know about climate change we are unwilling to do anything about it. His research included speaking to Tea Party members, most of whom have been brainwashed into seeing it as a left-wing hoax (Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage rage about this frequently) and to Nobel prize-winning psychologists who have studied how the mind is into avoidance. He suggests using religious arguments for activating people and sees climate change as a moral issue. He talks about the backlash over Earth Hour and the tragedy of the commons. He presents a great many disconnected ideas in a logical manner. Some reviewers disliked his evangelical environmental fervour. I think that it is becoming more necessary. But then, I think about it.
Profile Image for Nancy.
853 reviews18 followers
October 24, 2016
All books about climate change are depressing, and this one is no exception. What was interesting about this book, however, was not the terrifying and tragic truth of climate change but the psychology behind why it is we continue to ignore it. I'm not saying it was any less depressing, but it did provide answers. The author was really balanced, taking into account every viewpoint from every angle and looking at us all as human beings facing a huge existential crisis and dealing with it in the only ways we know. There was some hope at the end, as there usually has to be in order to be able to get through books such as this one, but we are trapped by our humanity and until we can face it, we seem to be heading for disaster.
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