This is the interview with Per Espen Stoknes from episode 081 of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.
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Stoknes has developed a strategy for science communicators who find themselves confronted with climate change deniers who aren’t swayed by facts and charts. His book presents a series of psychology-based steps designed to painlessly change people’s minds and avoid the common mistakes scientists tend to make when explaining climate change to laypeople.
Per: Yeah, this is what I call this issue, the psychological climate paradox. The paradox really that – since 1989 – that’s 25 years, 26 years now. The amount of scientific facts and the certainty of the science has been growing very strongly. So we have had like 5 IPCC reports, and more than 30 000 new climate science articles published. Which all underline the seriousness of the problem. But if you look at the polls, the weird thing happens is that since 1989, people’s concern for climate change has actually declined. This psychological climate paradox is particularly prevalent in wealthy democracies, such as the US, Canada, UK, Norway, Australia. Which are both – likely to see themselves as rational, modern and – but also petroleum based economies. What I’ve done is to really condense the – the say the 3 or 400 articles that have been published within psychology and sociology and social anthropology – into a set of psychological barriers that create this paradox. So there are psychological barriers inside us, or mechanisms that come into play when there is a – shall we say, an uncomfortable science message that’s coming our way.
David: So you are – early on in the book, you write about how there is a sort of a golden rule to psycho-therapeutic approaches. And you talk about how – when we have something that seems like it’s been a solution in the past– Like a habitual solution, that we can use it so often that it becomes part of the problem. And we end up doubling down our efforts when facing difficult problems, instead of trying to go about moving to a different course. Could you sort of elaborate on that?
Per: Yeah, it’s kind of quite common – as you say – within coaching and psychotherapy. That if you have a problem, you try harder – the way you had tried to solve it. So gradually what you do is – by pushing harder and harder, you’re just reinforcing the problem because you’re doing something that also contributes to the problem. This has been the case, in terms of climate science communications. Because there has been this conviction that if only we could get the facts out to people, then they would kind of come to their minds and senses and recognize that this is important or this is serious. However, having tried that, and seen that didn’t have the intended effect – what has the climate science communicators done? Well, they doubled their efforts, and put a little bit of doom and apocalypse into it. “If we don’t change our ways now, we’re on our way to a 4 degree plus – or even worse, a burning world.” But, for them, as rational messengers, rational scientists – they wouldn’t say like “burning world,” or “toast world.” In the IPCC report, they come up with an incredibly communicative name of RCP8.5. And this is one example – by sticking so hard to your science, that you tend to forget that you’re actually trying to reach out to people. And it gets the opposite effect of what you intended, which is that people distance themselves from it and are turned off.
David: I mean I – you see a lot of these videos, I remember something that went around on the internet a while back. It was a clip from HBO’s The Newsroom. Where they had the climate scientists saying that we’re all doomed and everything. And I think that stuff – I would speculate that sort of thing is really sort of a dog whistle effect. So that like all the people who are already on your side – they are the ones who watch that kind of stuff, and read that kind of stuff. And say, “Look at this.” And they share it around on their social networks. But among the people who are opposed to this, or deny it – or for whatever reason, feel like they – that this is not a message they accept. That just bounces of off them, and becomes evidence for how crazy the other side is. That’s sort of the gist of what I see in a lot of what you talk about in this book. So what – if this rational strategy, or quote unquote, “rational strategy” doesn’t work – this confrontational thing doesn’t work, this sort of shoving the facts down peoples’ throats doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work, and what is a better, broader alternative to just saying, look at this fact?
Per: Exactly. In a way, when the scientist is pushing facts at people, it’s being repeating the same experiment over and over, and seeing that it has the same outcome. But not being willing to change how you do it, so the principle then is we should do something else, we should try something else than just pushing the facts. The reason it doesn’t work is that those who are – as you mentioned – ready to take it in, they have already heard. So you could kind of segment the population into 6 main groups, if you will. Some say they are alarmed, and this about 13% percent of the population. And they have heard, and they have understood. Then there are a group called the concerned, which are like 31%. They are also quite convinced. But even if they want a more vigorous policy, they’re somewhat less involved in the issue. Then you have the rest of the population, which then adds up to typically a little bit more than 50%, which of course is disengaged, doubtful, or downright dismissive of the whole issue. Among these other groups, the 13%, or the 87% – quite a few psychological barriers, as I mentioned are involved in creating this negative impact of – from climate science on people’s concern. I give these names that all start with d just for the simplicity.
David: These are really cool, your 5 d’s of climate den–
Per: Not really denial, no.
David: Denial’s in there. The 5 d’s of what? How would you put it?
Per: Yeah, it’s the 5 psychological mechanisms that kind of uphold the psychological paradox of the climate. The more facts we get, the less concerned we go. The first of these, as I briefly mentioned – distancing. Because when we hear about climate change, it’s typically positioned in the year 2100, or 2200. Like you’ve maybe heard the news that Antarctica is now melting. There’s no way it’s going to be stopped, and in 200 hundred years, there will more than a meter of sea level rise. Well, when people hear that, they think, “2200, did he say that?” And it’s so way out distance beyond what people care about in their ordinary lives. Which is like this month or this week that the issue importance kind of just goes down, compared to the other more pressing stuff we have on our to do lists. So there’s the distance in time. And there’s also distancing in terms of social, or the space where – when typically, they’ve been using a lot of imagery of melting ice, and polar bears, and flooding in Bangladesh, or cyclones in the Pacifica. All of these images are very distant in space from us. So, “It’s happening far in the future, and it’s happening far away from me.” Thirdly the people who are typically– Suffers the consequences of climate change, they’re people I don’t really know. They’re socially distant from me, I don’t know them. I don’t know -even know somebody who knows them. And this social distance, so to speak creates a lowering of concern, particularly if it’s said like – 1 million people were displaced by the storm.” But we know that people don’t really relate well to statistics, I should add. 1 person’s a tragedy, but 1 million is statistics. We have yet another way of distancing ourselves from it, and that is in terms of responsibility. When we hear about politicians and negotiators, and all these international like COP (Conference of the Parties) like we have another one now in Paris in this December coming up. But we’d had before like in Copenhagen, Borscht, Lima, etc. And what we hear is that people who we don’t know stand up and say, “We must act now,” and then everybody agrees. The only thing they agree is that they will meet again next year. So it’s outside my scope of influence, so to speak. That’s the psychological concept. I can care and do something about what I have as kind of a self-efficacy. And the terms of – if I do it, it will have an effect. But with these negotiations, they are so far removed from me in responsibility, it just creates helplessness. And I want to kind of give up kind of feeling. So the first barrier is very important in terms of creating this reduction in the sense of urgency, and the sense of health risk and concern.
David: It seems so strange though, because we have all these – there are all these mechanisms of distance when it comes to this issue. But it seems like everywhere I am, I am being affected by climate. Like it’s a persistent part of our day-to-day lives, yet it’s strange that we would find – feel a psychological distance from the actual issue. Is part of that a problem– Is part of the problem that people sort of conflate weather and climate as being the same thing you think, maybe?
Per: It’s interesting, the point you mention. Because people tend to get more concerned about global warming when there’s been a hot period. And if there is a cold period, then the concern falls. This is even statistically reflected in the news media and the types of articles that are published. So the number of editorials and the number of articles of climate change – they go way up if there’s a heat wave, and then when it goes cold they go way down. So this just shows to me how dominant, psychologically speaking – in our attention. What is, that the near takes predominance of the more distant or the long term.
David: Okay, let’s move on to the doom. It would seem like – on the surface here – would seem like, these messages of doom would get people to act. But you say that it actually ends up backfiring. How does that work?
Per: Yeah. As – the framing, so to speak, of climate message – has been that– If we continue as today, we’ll all end up in a burning planet – or in hell, if you will? And this doom and apocalypse framing sets up a state of mind where we all felt somewhat guilty. There’s a certain fear in it. And what is quite well known to psychology, is that if people feel fear and guilt then they’re not really motivated to get engaged. Rather they quickly learn what we call avoidance behavior. So on the one hand we do habituation to it. We heard it so many different times before. It seems like it’s always, “The end is nigh.” Always the last times. And then if we feel any fear and guilt still after that, we tend to get pacified by it. We do not get active and want to do something with it. So fear and guilt is good at making people want to avoid the messenger and the message, and we quickly learn how to filter it out. So that’s the problem with using doom as he main framing for the climate message. It backfires very quickly on the issue.
David: I’m David McRaney this is the You Are Not So Smart podcast. And we’re listening to sort of a raw interview with Per Espen Stoknes. We’re going to get right back to where we just left off. That’s what’s interesting and I’ve read there are similar effects when it comes to dieting and exercise. Like people can – the– Well you think the messages that say, “You’re going to get fat,” Or messages that you’re going to die of heart disease, or you’re going to-Even when it comes to smoking, those messages. It seems like those are going to work on people. But really what it does, is it just – it creates that situation that you were describing, where people will just simply find a way to rationalize away what they’re wanting to do in the first place. ‘Cause we’re very, very good at that.
Per: Exactly. And that brings a lot to the third barrier, so to speak. Which is the dissonance barrier. So these are somewhat distinct, but also somewhat connected. So if we get through the distance barrier – by saying that the climate changes here and now, and making it visible to people. And then if we manage to avoid the doom barrier – which is deeply pacifying to people. And then, thirdly we hit typically the dissonance barrier. The reason for this is that, when what we do conflicts with what we know, then this generates a type of uncomfortable feeling inside of us. That psychology is called the dissonance. It’s really from – like you said, with smoking. If I know that – I smoke – and I also know that smoking kills, sort of smoking leads to cancer. This generates some uncomfortableness, unease. Something that’s not quite right in terms of my self-image. Because I like to see myself as a good person. And then quite a few of the creative strategies are typically employed to kind of get rid of this dissonance. So we’re very abrasive, very creative when it comes to coming up with good justifications, so we don’t have to really bother too much about this dissonance – or we’ll get rid of it. So for instance, we could say that – if I smoke, to do that sample first. I can modify one by saying, “I really don’t smoke that much. Actually my friend smoked even more than me. So I’ll probably be fine.” I can also change the perceived importance of one of them. I could say, “Well actually the evidence is quite weak that smoking causes cancer. I have this aunt. She smokes 40 a day but she’s fit as a fiddle. And I had – my uncle – he actually died of cancer, but he never smoked.” So it can’t be that clear or that strong. So by telling myself this, I can reduce the felt dissonance. And what we’re seeing now in the climate, is that we’re having this – the same type of responses. So if I have like 2 contradictory elements between what I do and what I know – such as – I have high omissions, I live a high energy – fossil fuel energy intensive life. And secondly, CO2 leads to climate change or climate disruptions. Well this generates in the same way as we’re smoking, this dissonance. And then how can I get rid of that? Well I could use the same strategies as it is used in terms of smoking. I can say, “Well my emissions are really quite insignificant. It’s there, it’s the Chinese or the Kuwaiti’s or it’s the Indians that are now you know making all these things. They are emitting more than we are.” So that helps a little bit. And that’s been used to a certain extent. And then we can also change the importance of one cognition. Saying that, “While the evidence is quite weak that CO2 causes warming really. I heard from one scientist who says it’s the sunspots. And this is an interesting point because– When people, I mean there has been a well-funded and well-oiled misinformation campaign, right? With the big oil money paying for a lot of these messages that climate change isn’t really happening, or it hasn’t warmed since in the year 1998. And with very little brainpower, and very few facts – they were able to kind of get their message across. And one other reason why this is that – is that – there may be a kind of demand side to this disbelief. So we have a supply and we have a demand side, and the demand side is really generated this dissonance feeling. Because if I then really start to question or doubt the evidence, well it makes my dissonance go away, doesn’t it?
David: Right, right.
Per: Also I could do more – more things like this – as you mentioned with dieting or smoking. I can say that, “Actually I’ve now I installed a heat pump or a solar panel on my roof. So my trip to Thailand now doesn’t really matter.” I’ve counted that. In psychology, we call that strategy, “for moral licensing.” Because I have done one good thing, I can now do – continue as usual so to speak. And then if this dissonance goes back and forth, I try to explain it away but doesn’t really go away, and it comes back. And then I maybe have a friend who confronts me. Or here again, I read again some news on the science. I can also be tempted to end up with just completely simply denying that the cognition’s are related. I can say, “There is no evidence linking CO2 and climate change.” And then I have to add some story to kinda justify that. I could say for instance that, “Well this is just the leftist – left side. Now that Marx is dead, they need another excuse to make a bigger government or put up the taxes.” Or, “This means climate scientists are just screaming, because they want to have more government funds for their own research. So, but making these kind of stories I’m able to get – let my dissonance go away. And that feels better, it feels good. This is part of the backlash, part of the reason that– And since 1989, when – because we haven’t had behaviors actions that are consistent with what we know, this creates the dissonance and that dissonance is done away by these simple psychological strategies that makes us makes us feel better.
David: And then your fifth d is identity. Which is – sort of – and I’m assuming this is more along the lines of– You sort of have a social construct of who you are yourself and everything. And then you have this network of people that– This – your very identity as a human being in your social network, could come into threat if you were to flip on this issue. What would other people think? How would you really align yourself? Is that more in line with what you’re thinking?
Per: Exactly. Because if my sense of self, and my lifestyle, my professional self – that is my job etc – are threatened by news or facts or some messenger, then I inevitably encounter resistance to take that in. I prefer to shoot back at the other to protect myself or my self-esteem. So maybe the simplest example of this is a new trend in the US that I’ve found. Cars are typically expressions of ourselves. The brand of car, and how you drive it. So let’s say if you have a big SUV with a truck with a diesel engine and then there comes this enviro guy maybe driving his Prius, or electric car and it comes up to your bumper or maybe or gets a bit too close. And you feel, what is he doing here? And then – there has become a market for this. It’s called rolling coal, which is a piece of equipment you can install in them, engine. So when you hit the button and the dashboard, it injects more diesel than the motor you can do. And suddenly you can make a huge cloud of soot and carbon, and just drown out that Prius right behind you. So this product is called “The Prius repellent.” And it’s on sale for about $500.
David: That’s amazing.
Per: Isn’t it. So it just shows the extent of identity protection, how that works.
David: So I’m thinking – okay – so the kind of person that might buy that. Or people of all stripes that are on the side of, “I don’t believe in global warming, I don’t believe in human anthropocentric– Climate change, people who don’t believe that all that stuff. It seems so weird to me, the people that are in the throes of all these psychological mechanisms you describe. If you were like – let’s say you were in college and you were listening to scientists talk about volcanoes. Or scientists talking about how mosquitoes, the life cycle of a mosquito. There’s all these – there are many different things that people will hear about in the world of science, that’s beyond their layperson understanding. Then when they hear scientists and experts talking to them about that sort of thing, they accept that this person is an expert. They accept that they don’t really understand this fully, and this person does. And they will take that person’s advice. Why is it on this issue that people suddenly stop and say, “I don’t know about that.” It seems like a strange thing, it seems strange to go, “I don’t know about all those thousands of experts on this topic. I think I know better than them.” Why is this a sticking point for people and other scientific ideas are not?
Per: Yeah. When you hear some expert talking, then we typically want to know a little bit about – what’s his identity? Is he in my tribe – so to speak, or is he is from somewhere else? And studies have been done that show if the expert holds the same values – for instance – religious or in terms of politics. Then I tend to trust that expert more, even if it’s a fake expert. So this identity protection, that this last barrier wants us to kind of cherry pick or select – what kind of experts we are willing to listen to, when that issue has been politicized. And that’s what happened with the climate issue. Since it’s been, become an identity issue – it’s now more polarizing in politics than even abortion or gay rights and guns. So in this case, when the issue has been politicized – then suddenly – we start to screen the values of the expert, before we make up our minds. And this is the way that identity protective cognition actually works. I prefer to give more weight to maybe one expert who has the same values as me, than a thousand who seem to have opposing values.
David: It’s really strange. I can imagine– I think if it hadn’t happened, it would seem so bizarre. ‘Cause it would seem like strange, like imagine if like astronomy became politicized. And that there would be– Like, “That person’s in the out-group, I’m in this in-group. I don’t believe there is a Jupiter, I don’t care what you show me. Those are all faked.” I mean that’s – it’s so amazing that something that is purely empirical – and for the most part is just a bunch of numbers and charts and graphs, can become infused with these political values. And then put people in their camps. It seems so strange. And the idea that it can happen to this scares me. Because I think, well maybe that can happen to any scientific principle, and it has in the past of course. And the fact that it’s happening to this right now is a real– For a lot of people it’s a real conundrum, and you write – you identify these. Your book is fantastic, because you identify all 5 of these things, and you sort of lay the the foundation before that. But then you have some real practical advice on what we actually should be doing, instead of what we are doing now.
David: We have – before we run out of time, let’s go into – some of, what are some things that we can do to counteract these psychological mechanisms?
Per: Great. Yeah let’s talk about solutions. First, knowing these barriers help you define your success criteria for better climate communications. So you can kind of flip them over to see whether new types of climate communication actually will be hitting the barrier, or can maybe help us move past it – move beyond them. So the first is to make climate issue feel more personal, more near and urgent, that’s the dissident to break that one. You can also do that by making it more social, which I’ll come back to. And then the doom barrier have to be bypassed by using framings that do not backfire on the issue through negative feelings. Thirdly, we need to reduce the dissonance by making it easier – simpler for people to do visible and consistent actions. And fourthly, we have to start – avoid the emotional need for denial, which is the feeling of being accused and guilt. Firstly, we have to reduce the cultural and political polarization on the issue by better storytelling, that embraces values of other segments of the population. So in summary of giving these new strategies names starting with S – just 5 here too. They’re social, simple, supportive, stories, and signals. So if you want I can just dive into the first one, which is the social network strategy. We have to make the climate message more social, because – as I said – if you only talk about glaziers and arctic ice or polar bears or Bangladesh or Pacific Islands – it’s way far for me. But if it’s something that happens in my network with something that people that I care about. Then suddenly it feels much more near and more personal, and more– Urgent too, because it’s here and now in a way. So I have a few examples of how this works. Some communities are trying to get out of the gloom, and starting to do more like parties and get-togethers. And having fun together, when they do local community issues such as sports games. You might have heard of the Green Sports Alliance? They do like the greening of sports events, and then the sports stars are the people that you look up to – the sports people, they get influenced through peer messengers that are much closer to themselves than a distant climate scientist. But also ordinary neighborhoods such as – if there’s one neighbor who puts up solar panels on his roof. Then suddenly the likelihood of the others in the same area goes way up. So you could say, “Initiatives such as rooftop solar is contagious. And people don’t do it because of the climate, but if they see that others are doing it as well.” And this was – this came very clearly out of an experiment that was done by a Professor called Bob Cialdini, who put up hundreds of households into 4 groups. And the first group were told they should conserve power for the sake of sustainability. It’s good for the earth. The second group we’re told they should conserve energy, because of their children and their children’s children – there, for future generations. The third group were told they should conserve energy because it’s profitable. You save money by cutting your power bill. And the first group were told how much they are using compared to their neighbors.
David: Right, right.
Per: The very clear message was that the most motivational message was the one where I could compare myself to what my neighbors were doing. And this is what we call using the power of social networks. And you might have heard of the company oPower – because they’re taking this research, and then leveraged it into a business idea. And so now you can get your power bill and– On your power bill, you can get your comparison to your efficient neighbors and to all neighbors. And then if you’re doing better than them, you get to 2 smiles and great. Or if you’re in the middle you get a good and a smiley. And if you’re a bit low you don’t get any frown, because they don’t use frowns. You have to be on the positive side. So Cialdini’s point is that people just don’t want to conserve energy. They want actually to be acknowledged for conserving energy. And this little twist is what makes the whole difference in terms of motivation to do something about it. We call this using the power of social norms, because if I believe that other people whom I care about – or are in my network – do something with it, then I will do so too. And the opposite – if I believe that nobody’s taking action on this, then I won’t bother either. By then having people see that for instance – like sports events or solar panel spreading, or solar panels clubs or making your power consumption visible either through an app or text messaging or the bill. All these things adds up. So that you shift the baseline, so to speak – of what is considered the social norm, or the the typical way. If I’m in doubt what to do, then I would ask, “What would other people do in my situation?” And then I would typically do what I believe most other people are doing. This has to do with the extent to which we humans are social imitators And that goes way back into our evolutionary psychology. [Gregor?] did that.
David: Your next frame is about being supportive. About making sure you employ frames that support your message.
Per: Right. And as we mentioned earlier, the doomed frame tends to backfire. And another similar frame that has been used by economists, is that it’s so costly to do something about the climate change, very expensive. And if you say, “It’s not costly,” you’re still activating that framing. So what’s emerging are new main supportive frames – is first of all, the health framing. Because if you state that climate change is really about the health of people– ‘Cause it, otherwise it increases pollen allergies, asthma’s, heat related violence, heat related heart strokes, more infectious disease – all these kind of things – mental health problems, that are here right now. Then it’s like – this aligns with what people consider to be the most important political priorities. Let me explain briefly. If you ask people – the public, “What are your most important public priorities, or the problems you think politicians should face -should do something about?” Then what always comes out on top is the economy, health, education, jobs – these kinds of issues. And climate gets way down below there to maybe 19 out of 20 or something like that -14 out of 15. But since health always is one of the top issues – by aligning climate with health – you use that as a frame to make it–Felt important go way up. So quite a bit of research has shown that if you frame or talk about climate in health issues – health terms, then there is a willingness to support it goes up. And it seems Obama has learnt or heard of this research too. Since now he’s going to arrange a climate change and health summit quite soon at the White House. And he’s involving the US Surgeon General, Doctor Murthy. Another frame that we know works well, is the risk or the insurance frame. So rather than discussing just the costs of the investments, we should discuss how much are we willing to pay today to avoid a larger risk in the future? This is what the insurance industry is all about. And today we are – for instance – willing to pay in the order of 2 to 3% of our entire GDP in fire and theft insurance. But we hardly pay- we’re paying more or less zero in terms of climate insurance. And that’s the absurdity of it. So if we realize that – just as a defense. It’s also, and is typical – this kind of risk issue. We’d pay for having a strong defense in case something happens. We don’t really believe that America will be invaded or that kind of stuff. But we need a strong defense, because we might experience a war again. And in the same way, we could argue that we don’t really know that the world is going to burn up, but it is a risk and we should insure ourselves – as we do with defense and fire insurance, against that from happening. It’s just plain common business sense, it’s prudent. And this has been put forward in a kind of – a report written by both Republicans and Democrats together. Think about it, Hank Paulson and Tom Steyer for instance they went together to make a report, called, “The risky business.” And that just – spell out the risks to business as, if we do not insure and pay certain time investments today.
David: To me it seems like if there is a – if there was a 1% chance that all of this is true when it comes to global warming, climate change – then we should probably do something about it. Yet we know that percentage is way way higher. So this actually feels like that’s a really, really good way to go at it. Is saying like, “Look, the chances – no matter what the chances are, we should do something. We make movies about having asteroid defense systems and things. This is an actual thing that our scientists have come to us and said, “Hey do something about this.”
Per: Yeah. So that’s one frame that’s very, very important to use. Not speaking about it as expensive, but speaking about as – investment and insurance. But there’s an even better frame as well, to kind of get a more – less polarization and more bipartisan-ism here, and that is the opportunity frame. This has to do with all the opportunities for – that arise with a new energy system, a new city infrastructure, smart houses and smart cities and maybe smart -even roads. I don’t know if you heard about the solar roadways idea. It came up last year on Indiegogo, a crowd sourcing website. And it went really viral, because it showed people an opportunity that they liked so much that they put – 1 – they gave away more money into this startup than any other has achieved in the history of crowdsourcing. What it really does is says that we could make smart roads by building solar panels into them, and then some LED indicators. And you could have roads that are generating more energy than they need, and at the same time showing if — Alarm signs on the road if something is happening further down, and they can redirect traffic, and all these opportunities. So what would it really be like to have smart roads, and not just dumped asphalt roads? And people love this concept. So it just speaks to the power of opportunity in this area. I’m not saying it’s a great economic idea and it will be profitable. But I’m talking about the psychological aspect, how people are fascinated about this.
David: Right. So these things can get so complex. You say that it’s important, one of your big principles is – it is important that we try to make sure that this is– That whatever we’re asking people to do is simple and easy, and not a giant sort of undertaking on part of the individual. Could you sort of elaborate on that one?
Per: Yeah sure. If you walk into some kind of store, and then you want to do a climate friendly purchase. And there’s like 80 different brands of ales. Or if I want to buy some household appliance, and I wonder which one would be the best long term point of view. It’s really hard to pick the right products. So what we could do is do apply some principles from behavioral economics to make it much more simple to do what is right. You know, people make a lot of mindless and destructive choices because that’s the way we have the economy set up. But the good news is that we could do a lot of mindless and constructive choices instead. So we test it out. One example that’s pretty easy to explain is the use of defaults. So let’s say for instance that you can you put all printers into the default of double sided printing. So if you don’t specify anything, it comes out double sided. And that would save something like 15 to 20% paper. Equivalent to taking 150 000 cars off the road, if it was applied to all US offices. And it’s just a digital switch. And also we did one study in Norway, where we put life cycle costs on the household appliance. So when you walk into a store, you can immediately see what this will – not just cost me today, as in sales price. But it will cost me over seven or 10 years of use. And suddenly – maybe the washing machine, the air conditioner, or the tumble dryer that is the cheapest today. You see with large fonts – the cost over 7 to 10 years. So the nudge here is really to redesign the choice architecture, or the layout of the label. So that the life cycle cost is printed with large fonts. The sales price with somewhat smaller fonts on the same price label. And this has the effect that people started buying the more energy efficient appliances. Because they were cheaper in the long run. But they hadn’t just known that before. And suddenly – on average -people were buying 5% more. Or they were buying household appliances that would reduce their power consumption by 5 percent. And if this was applied to all household appliances in the EU – we calculated – it would be equivalent to 10 million tons of CO2, or like taking 2 million cars off the road. And this is the fact, just by redesigning the price label.
David: And so – and another huge aspect of this, and this is something that I’ve seen come up a lot – especially in PR circles. Is that you really have to attach some sort of narrative to this. You need to give people the opportunity to understand this in a story format. Because we seem to really prefer to receive information in that format. So what are some ways you’ve seen that this works when it comes to the issue of climate change, global warming, that sort of thing?
Per: Yeah what I’m liking now is that there’s a new narrative or story emerging among both consultancies and business leaders. And this – that has to do with the resource productivity improvements, or what some call the resource revolution – and other call the circular economy. Because it takes the story of– Let’s say, the 20th century was all brown growth. We grew our economy by cheap fossil fuels. But now the age of cheap fossil fuel is over and we have to accommodate many billions more of middle class consumers on this planet. And we tell this story now – how this is going to happen through radical resource efficiency, so we can do much more with much less. And this is a narrative that applies specifically to business leaders and people who are focused on opportunities. On the other side, the other segments of the population -maybe religious people, or people who are more engaged by moral issues. There’s this new story coming up on the greening of religion. So I don’t know if you’ve noticed now that the Pope is coming out very strongly in favor of it. So the the story of stewardship within our society – becomes more important than the dominance story, domination of nature. So religions all over the world seem to be reinventing themselves as kind of green narratives about how – what’s the rightful place of humanity on this planet that God created. There’s also another narrative that says that this economic growth that we’ve had for so long, doesn’t really cut it anymore. People don’t get any happier. So what we really need is a description of a society that would make us more – give us a higher quality of life. What’s our dream? What’s our – what’s the type of society that we really like to live in? And this, “I have a dream,” type of stories. Are very, very important to create a sense of meaning and community. And give a deep motivation for moving ahead with the climate action. And also, it’s fundamentally – not polarizing, if you can frame it in these ways.
David: That’s fantastic. So to pull all that together, you say that the – our last thing to do is somehow provide feedback to people, give people signals so they can employ all that stuff in their lives. What are some great ways to do that?
Per: Yeah. The climate issue has had some key signals that has been in focus. And that is the PPM values of the atmosphere of CO2. But that’s an indicator that people can’t relate to, like 400 or 410 or 380, what have you. And also, they’d be talking about sea level rise in terms of inches per decade or something that. Which is impossible for people to see. So the whole point is that you need to find indicators and signals that feels relevant to people’s responses. Not just signals that say something about the global state of the world, but how are we in our society responding? Are we actually starting to turn the curve the right direction? And we can do this on an individual level, or company level, on a city level, or a national level. But we should stick to the signals that are comparable across these levels. So for instance one Norwegian bank are now developing a CO2 bank statement that comes along with your ordinary bank statements. So if you go into your internet bank, you can suddenly see the CO2 impact of your purchases for instance. That would give you a monthly feedback on how your consumption plays out in terms of climate emissions. And also you could easily link that with ads or stories or examples of how it could be improved. So that would be on the personal level. We could also look at what we could do in the commercial or corporate level. And we have developed an indicator that compares – how much do you increase your gross profit, compared to your emissions? Some people call that for carbon intensity and the whole point is that, previously industry have heard that that Enviro’s and the climate activists are saying, “No we have to stop the growth. We have to kill growth.” However the opportunity here is that we can continue economic growth, as long as you also reduce your emissions. And that’s actually profitable. And further, it gives a clear signal, as to what is a real green growth and what is a typical brown growth. So is your company really a part of the solution or is it part of the problem? That becomes perfectly measurable and clear if we follow this carbon intensity per company indicator. The question that’s been driving me all these years is whether humans are – shall we say – inevitably short term? And what I found is a very positive conclusion. That we’re not inevitably short term, but we have to need – we need a little bit help off the social conditions around us. So if we have social norms, supportive frames, simple actions, meaningful stories, and signals that are perceived as personally relevant – then people will actually act for the long term. So it’s really up– It’s just our culture, we lost this. Most other cultures in the history of the earth have had social norms and frames and actions that made it simple for them to behave in line with their ecosystems. And that’s just what we have to re-establish in our culture as well.
David: That’s fantastic, yeah.
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