On September 23, George Marshall, one of Europe’s leading experts on climate change communication, gave an engaging talk to a gathering of 200 Rutgers students, faculty, staff and members of the public at Rutgers Cook Campus Center about his latest book, Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.
Marshall, a British citizen, has been on a quest to discover why people are inclined to ignore climate change even when presented with scientific facts. His research involved discussions with Nobel Prize-winning psychologists and the activists of the Texas Tea Party; the world’s leading climate scientists and the people who denounce them; liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals. One of his conclusions is that climate change is difficult to accept and that humans therefore construct a narrative that enables us to ignore it, reject it or shape it in our own image.
“There is no narrative of forgiveness in climate change, which makes it difficult,” noted Marshall. He countered that we can learn from evangelicals who generate a community of shared beliefs. They do this by acknowledging and accepting people can have doubts and by reaching out one-on-one with people providing one’s individual narrative about how they came to their religion. Marshall suggests that we can similarly own our personal epiphanies about accepting that climate change is real. He discussed many fertile areas for research, including better understanding of these personal epiphanies and why some cultures are more accepting of the science than others.
Engaging the audience in a question and answer session following his talk, Marshall answered students questions about how they could better communicate about climate change. He then spent time on one-on-one exchanges with participants during a book signing.
Prior to his talk, Marshall met with undergraduate and graduate student leaders from over 10 student groups, answering their questions about his career path and his current work. He provided insights about his career journey and emphasized the importance of being passionate about one’s work.
Marshall is the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, based in Oxford, England, and over the past 25 years has worked at all levels of the environmental movement, including in senior positions for Greenpeace USA and the Rainforest Foundation. He writes widely on climate change issues including articles for The New Statesman, The Guardian, New Scientist and The Ecologist and is the creator of the blog climatedenial.org. Marshall rebuilt his own home in Oxford to reduce energy and water consumption by two thirds.
Marshall’s visit was sponsored by the Rutgers Climate Institute, the Cook Campus Deans, Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, Rutgers Association of Planning and Policy Students, Rutgers Ecology Graduate Student Association, Rutgers Environmental Science and Engineering Club, Rutgers Environmental Sciences Graduate Student Association, Rutgers Geology Club, Rutgers Meteorology Club, Rutgers Oceanography Club, Rutgers Undergraduate Geography Society and Students for Environmental Awareness.