Book Discussion Series #5: Don’t Even Think About It

Turn the lights off or the teddy bear gets it.

brown and white bear plush toy
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a little while since my last review, but I have enjoyed every minute of this one! The book in question is George Marshall‘s 2014 book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, which is still super-duper relevant five years on, in the wake of the upsurge in climate activism and publicity that we’ve seen in recent months.

Cards on the table here, I loved this book. Not of course because I want to see if the teddy bear gets it… I adored this book because to use Marshall’s own vernacular, I have conviction. I have a strongly held opinion through personal evaluation of the evidence. I am a liberal, non-religious (although open-minded), scientist, who views climate change as unequivocal fact… therefore this book was always going to appeal to me and my personal bias.

And in his examination of bias, psychology, social norms, narratives, religion, Marshall leaves no stone unturned on his quest to underline why we bury our heads, but also why we are actually capable of collective action on climate change. Compiled in short, easy to digest chapters, Marshall’s book offers no pretence as he draws together his vast experience and the opinions of a huge array of individuals on opposing sides, from the Texas Tea Party and evangelical Christians to a number of prominent scientists and activists.

And a great read it certainly makes. Marshall presents us with a variety of salient points, opinions and philosophies on the workings of the human mind, how we utilise social norms, bias, trust (or indeed lack of) in authorities, scientists and communicators to mobilise those with similar world views. And he does so in a manner that would be enjoyable to those who aren’t necessarily scientifically or politically inclined. In fact, it’s witty, charming and downright silly at times too, I laughed out loud on several occasions – the phrase “as much use as a marzipan dildo” elicited a particularly amused chuckle… not what I was expecting in a book about climate change I must say!

It is Marshall’s willing to talk to, and recognise all of the opinions that is particularly enlightened. He highlights not only the differences that polarise each side of the debate, but also that which makes us similar in many ways, and in highlighting this it is evident that some of the most useful of communicators are not always those whom we would expect. Marshall is evidently extremely knowledgeable about the limitations of our psychology and thus extremely self aware. In his penultimate chapter, he makes a number of (which he openly admits are highly biased) recommendations aimed for the most part at those who are communicating climate change.

To me Chapter 22 raises some questions that are of particular interest, and something I hope to research and continue the debate about going forward, that is, not what is being communicated but indeed who is doing the communicating. Marshall states that the answer may lie “with finding new messengers rather than finding new messages” this is particularly apt in light of the fast paced way our means of disseminating information are evolving. Are a generation more accustomed to social media and streaming services going to be inclined to trust the same sources as those who read newspapers? And, to many of the general public, will messages will be better received from a familiar trusted face than an aloof expert dressed in tweed?

I would recommend this book to anyone, irrespective of background, no previous understanding needed. It is entertaining, enlightening and engaging. Marshall sheds light on a number of human curiosities, from our evolution, to the link between the rational and emotional brain and why we as a species need (aside from our basic needs for survival that is) and love a good story.

And a good story Marshall has a achieved here, a tapestry of snippets from his meetings with all sorts of individuals from lots of different sections of society, with the scary scientific facts left almost exclusively to the succinct final chapter. And, I think it’s that human voice, that storytelling aspect, that Marshall describes and so superbly executes, that makes this book so compelling.

***

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change was discussed in more detail as the subject of a Green Thinkers Book Club Webinar run by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) on 18.07.19. The full recording and further information will be uploaded here shortly. 

 

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