Order the spring issue here

Melancholy for brighter times

With the marketing logic, Per Espen Stoknes sells the climate message to an audience overwhelmed by dystopia and warning signs.

Per Espen Stoknes lectures at BI and has a background in both economics and psychology, as well as a specialization in future thinking. He also has broad business experience in the United States, there What we think about when we don't think about global warming came out the first time two years ago. At first glance, this climate book is also characterized by a typical American ideal of actionable optimism within the context of the market economy. Here, however, lies the core of an interesting psychological contradiction – is it not precisely the fear of a crippling pessimism and financial constraints that people will not take over the climate crisis?

Obscure resistance. The author states the problem in plain text: 97,5 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and caused by human pollution. Still, 50 percent of the US population chooses to believe the remaining 2,5 percent of scientists – who believe the greenhouse effect has a negligible impact on the climate. If the future of the globe depends on the choices made by democratic countries, this kind of statistical data is as crucial as climate research. It is too easy to trace opposition to climate action back to propaganda campaigns financed by powerful oil companies and corrupt politicians. The problem of climate skepticism and unwillingness to act is linked to a broader and far more obscure resistance in most people. We eventually know a good deal about changes in weather systems and ocean currents, about rising CO2 levels and climatic tipping points. However, we know far less about disruptions in information flows, moral-political low pressure, rising levels of indifference and counterproductive tipping points for the individual's climate conscience.

Environmental fight without charges. Based on an analysis of the psychology of environmental policy, Stoknes agrees to sell the climate message to the part of the population who refuse to take the seriousness. With marketing logic he examines the reluctant "buyer" psychology, from the logic of denial to social incentives. Then he looks at how the climate message has been presented so far: The climate issue is undeniably characterized by depressing disaster scenarios, moral accusations and a systemic criticism so extensive that both capitalism and thus our entire social form are almost criminalized. Many experience this as an attack and a charge, and the result is defense reactions, escape or counter-attack. Accordingly, the author believes that environmentalists must abandon both dry tables and heavy ethical shootings: Speaking of imperative necessities or expressing doom scenarios still works only for those already enlisted in the environmental case.

Act first, think later. The first two of the three main chapters are called "Thinking" and "Doing" respectively. Stoknes' most compelling point is that we must feel that we can do something about the problem if we are going to be able to imagine the. The goal is thus to get people to act first, so that we can avoid cognitive and social dissonance: If we already use alternative sources of energy, we are more open to arguments that just that is important and necessary. If people around us boast ecological values, it is also easier for ourselves.

Stoknes proves to be extremely pragmatic here: Based on sociological statistics, he points out that people are far more inclined to sort at source or switch to green energy to compete with their neighbors than out of concern for the future of the planet. They would rather buy a Tesla because it is a status symbol than because they feel responsible for the environment. Vanity and fashion consciousness are stronger motives than moral conscience. A broad cultural change of course must take place through a gentle manipulation, a "dulting" of the population in the right direction through everything from rewards, personalized climate quotas that appeal to the competitive instinct, green fashions and carbon taxes. The goal must otherwise be to frame the environmental message into a positive narrative.

Vanity and fashion consciousness are stronger motives for converting to green energy than moral conscience.

Sudden depth. But isn't it naïve optimism when Stoknes talks about distributing free pizza to neighborhoods that have been good at source sorting? Isn't carbon tax an instrumental and external way of affecting people in a time that needs a fundamental change in mentality? Isn't there a superficial pragmatism in wrapping the environmental message into "uplifting stories" and strategic language? Maybe, but not if the measures spring from a deeper understanding and genuine commitment.

The last part of the book – "Be" – addresses the existential aspects of the environmental crisis. With a polite apology to more sober science readers, Stoknes here boldly rises to the personal and poetic – and the result is highly successful.

The climate issue is characterized by the fact that our entire social form is almost criminalized. The result is defense reactions, escape or counter-attacks.

- advertisement -

Here, Stokne's point of departure is the eco-philosopher David Abram and links the environmental commitment to a sensory interaction with nature and the atmosphere, while adding experiences from his own tour experiences. But he also goes on to talk about how he has been almost helplessly gripped by grief over the environmental situation: the news that half of the Earth's species have been exterminated during his own lifetime or the sight of ruined nature.

Darkness and courage. As a counterpart to the first section's almost manic power and strategic optimism, we get here a chapter with the surprising title "Fight for your depression!". With reference to the psychologist James Hillman, the author here describes the great sorrow over the mental imbalance and civilizing madness of civilization as a "fruitful depression". We should not run away from the crisis, but rather meet it as an opportunity to learn something: reflection, humility, contact with death and the boundaries of life. As we often escape from depressing insights, we also tend to attenuate and counteract the symptoms rather than understanding them and learning from them. Loud factory beeps are driving the smoke over our heads – and plans for technological repairs to the atmosphere are forcing a deeper search for a healthier way of life. Stoknes does not hide the fact that this criticism can also affect the strategies he has proposed – the doling, the gentle manipulation and the positive frame narratives.

Brave dispute. At the end of the book, however, Stoknes connects the practical with the philosophical – and argues that both are necessary. Criticism of civilization and self-knowledge must be combined with practical-economic solutions and a look at everyday psychological facts. The stubborn optimism finally accompanies the darker realizations under the motto "It is hopeless, and I do not give up!". In his will for divisiveness and a fearless approach to the paradoxes of the environmental crisis, Stoknes conveys an infectious and charismatic courage.

Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

You may also likeRelated