climate change · Climate communication · climate science · Internal Conflict · Psychology · Rhetoric

PAIN Part II: Climate Advocates must Teach to Trust Your Instruments

Last week I posted about PAIN and climate rhetoric.  In short, the concept is that people respond to their feelings most when the stimulus is a threat of change that is: (1) personal; (2) abrupt; (3) immoral; and (4) now. And there is certainly a scientific basis for this


trust your instruments
“But it doesn’t feel like I’m banking left”

Climate Skeptics Do Not Manufacture Doubt – They Affirm Doubt

The climate “rhetoric,” by my reckoning, has sought to insert the PAIN factors into people’s consciousness. This is, again in my opinion, a misapplication of the principles. The climate skeptics do not manufacture doubt. Rather, they exploit the PAIN principles that people already are acting upon and buttress them.  The skeptics do not need to say that terrorism is a bigger threat than climate change because PAIN principles dictate that people already feel that way.

Those who are doing climate communication have used this research incorrectly.  PAIN is not an external force that gets people to act. Rather, it is an internal factor that explains why they REACT.  PAIN isn’t a bad acronym. What climate advocates are doing with PAIN is, in a very real sense, telling people “that doesn’t hurt” when it does.  At the same time they are arguing, “This DOES hurt” when it does not.

These are factors that cannot be dismissed. Rather, to eliminate them they must be trained away.  Unfortunately for the advocates, this training can only be accomplished upon those who want to be trained.  An example is training pilots to ignore their feelings and trust their instruments.

Pilots Require Extensive Training to Overcome Senses

PAIN is a principle that is not easily overcome.  People trust their feelings and it takes much training and effort to overcome those feelings. This is something that the aviation community has known for the better part of a century.

“Spatial Disorientation” is a known factor and danger of aviation. If a person loses visual of the horizon, a person relies on other senses to determine position in space. But when an aircraft is in a turn, climb or dive, these senses become confused and cannot be trusted.

A pilot in an environment without visual cues must “trust the instruments.” John F Kennedy, Jr., was not adequately trained in this. Every person who has been behind the control yoke knows this – even students. Nevertheless, the urge is so strong to trust the body’s senses over the instrument readings that untrained pilots do not trust the instruments.

That the pilots don’t trust the instruments before training is nothing surprising. It is how people are. Likewise, climate advocates must overcome human nature. Again, it’s not Heartland telling people that climate change is not a big deal. It’s Heartland acting to confirm people’s senses that climate change is neither person, abrupt, immoral or a danger now.

Pointing the finger at Heartland or deniers isn’t getting the climate advocate community anywhere. Why they seem to be doubling down on the rhetoric that is not working is baffling to me.  Sure, it worked in the past. It worked amazingly well.  Of course, ten years ago Katrina was easily exploitable. It was personal (a human face was put on it), it was abrupt (before and after), it was appealed to morals (look at those poor people!) and it was in-your-face happening right now.

After Katrina, Expectations of Disaster were not Met. Just like the War Iraq

Hurricane Katrina did for climate change awareness what 9/11 did for awareness of terror.  9/11 shocked the conscience and all the PAIN factors were right there.

And what happened after 9/11?  Of course, it was exploited in order to inflame people’s passions and start a “war on terror.” This meant a large side war in Iraq, which was ancillary but, okay.  And as time moved on, the people of the US and of the world became weary of this war.  We were told that Iraq had WMDs, but sure as heck we weren’t finding them.

Meanwhile, our men and women were dying and getting blown up.  The war was costing a fortune. And the end goal was neither clearly defined nor obtainable. No matter what, Iraq was unstable.  This was not the 100 hours of war that the First Gulf War was. And eventually people came to believe that they were lied to and the War in Iraq became more and more unpopular, except among the fairly large fringe who thought Americans should remain no matter what the cost.

At the same time, people were told after Katrina to expect more hurricanes that were more powerful and more destructive. That climate change would cause deaths from heat waves and floods and any number of other events while temperatures kept rising.

And something curious happened.  The temperatures leveled off, causing immense debate about what was happening and scientists couldn’t explain it (and yes, there is still debate despite the rhetoric that we now believe the pause never happened – I covered that in another post. The debate is still ongoing in the climate community despite the efforts to say it isn’t and everybody knows it).

Additionally, the US went through a record drought of hurricanes.  Not only were hurricanes far less frequent, the most destructive storm wasn’t even a hurricane when it hit (Sandy). When a headline says, “It’s the climate, stupid” that was the cause of Sandy, it also meant that climate change was also responsible for the LACK of hurricanes.

One way or another, the promises of further hurricane damage were not met. It was like not finding WMDs (indeed, there are many who argue that WMDs were found in Iraq. Those meet the same response

Climate Advocates Have the Tough Job

The job of climate advocates is nothing short of overcoming people’s interpretations of their own observations. This is no easy task, since it requires a willing listener. Additionally, each person reacts differently to statements.

Climate communicators and advocates are no doubt aware of the struggles in convincing the public of the dangers. Therein is the other issue: they are trying to convince instead of to educate. When this happens, a person becomes more defensive about his or her beliefs.

Climate communicators, in essence, face the same challenges as a person suggesting Americans should stay in Iraq.  As much as the politicos could argue about the risks of leaving leading to destabilization, the American public was weary.  It was costly, had a human toll seen by families and others, and the positive results were just too diffuse.

All pilots are willing to go through the necessary training. Such is not the case for the general population. It is not an easy task.  However, there is one thing that I am convinced will aid in this for the long term: the prediction of measurable changes to climate.

This is what the climate advocates are faced with: convincing the world as a whole to “trust the instruments.”

A tough task.  In a later post, I will explain some methods and lay out a challenge for climate advocates and skeptics alike regarding over-unders in the future climate.


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