A Closer Look at the Technical and Behavioral Barriers to Action on Global Warming

Aug 20, 2013 Posted by

 

There’s been some excellent writing elsewhere of late showing why addressing the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, despite the clarity of the basic science, is so hard. Here are two examples:

In the Huffington Post, Tom Zeller, Jr., has filed an expanded version of an earlier clear-eyed examination of the impediments to wide adoption of technologies for capturing carbon dioxide from the air and stashing it underground. The piece effectively, if depressingly, reveals why all of the options for slowing or stopping the buildup of this long-lived greenhouse gas will be nearly impossible to deploy at a scale relevant to the climate challenge as long as conventional burning of abundant carbon-rich fuels — particularly coal — is the cheapest energy source. There are two ways to change that equation — raising the price of carbon-rich fuels globally or lowering the cost of non-polluting energy sources. Both paths are extraordinarily hard, which is why climate change is a problem that is “beyond super wicked.” [Insert, 10:17 a.m. | Besides being sequestering underground, CO2 can also be a feedstock, as is the case in the planned $125-million Capitol SkyMine plant, described as “the first commercial-scale carbon capture and utilization plant” in the United States.]

Here’s my Twitter post with the link to Zeller’s piece, which needs to be read from end to end:

Kharunya Paramaguru has an excellent feature in Time magazine on the psychological impediments to a prompt or sufficient response to the risks posed by the buildup of greenhouse gases. The piece, titled “The Battle Over Global Warming is All in Your Head,” builds nicely on themes I’ve explored quite a bit here and includes insights from Renee Lertzman, a researcher focused on the psychology of sustainability who was a guest contributor here awhile back. Here’s an excerpt: 

Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has written about why our inability to deal with climate change is due in part to the way our mind is wired. Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, “because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.”

Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, also picks up on the point about our brains’ difficulty in grasping climate change as a threat. Gifford refers to this and other psychological barriers to mitigating climate change as “dragons of inaction.” Since authoring a paper on the subject in 2011 in which he outlined seven main barriers, or dragons, he has found many more. “We’re up to around 30,” he notes. “Now it’s time to think about how we can slay these dragons.”

Please read the rest.

 

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