Book Review: What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming

; Toward A New Psychology of Climate Action by Per Epson Stoknes 

“We need a more compassionate understanding of how our paradoxical, many-voiced psyche is responding to news of the ongoing shifts in the climate.” p 7

Those of us who are wondering WHY others don’t get the message we feel like we’re sharing loud and clear will definitely appreciate the tools psychologist and economist Per Epson Stoknes spells out in this entertaining, easy to understand and to-the-point book. In it, he provides tools to successfully break through apathy and cognitive dissonance stoknes-669x1004by first explaining how current climate communications have built the believers/deniers divide, then describing holistic approaches to successfully break down this divide. Turning Stoknes’ tools into practice will lead to more people hearing, absorbing  and acting on the messages we are sending about the importance of innovative sustainability initiatives and acting on climate change.

I read this groundbreaking book about a year and a half ago, the August after it was published in March 2015. Since then, it has been the book I recommend the most to anyone with an interest in sustainability, climate change, or environmental activism. It’s also the book I come back to again and again for insight on how I can continue to improve my messaging at work, on projects, and in my personal life.

What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming is divided into three sections:

Part I. THINKING: Understanding the Climate Paradox

“…the new psychology of climate is less about what each of us can do to solve the problem and more about liberating us from some of the most debilitating side effects of the global climate messages.” p 89

Part 1 is invaluable in understanding how fear, lack of understanding and disconnection have created apathy, cognitive dissonance, and room to debate proven science.

Part II. DOING: If It Doesn’t Work, Do Something Else

“As humans we create meaning in our lives through stories. […] It is human stories, not carbon targets, that capture people’s attention… if it cannot be imagined and well told, people will surely not work for it to happen.” p 132/4

Part 2 provides countless ways of turning the negativity surrounding climate change and our future around by working toward a vision of a healthy and economically successful planet.

Part III. BEING: Inside the Living Air

“…we tend to think about [air] as something out there, or up there…We have long viewed the air only through the chemical, reductionist view; now its time to consider other ways of seeing, feeling and relating to the air.” p 166

Part 3 is the most philosophical and poetic section, encouraging readers to connect with the air and with nature more deeply. The books closing message is to turn our pessimism about the future of the climate into hope.

For me, this book gave me a new understanding of the psychology behind sustainability opponents and climate change deniers. It completely changed my approach to sustainability-related communications for the better. And as I revisit this book again and again, it does in fact help me stay hopeful and inspired.

There is a reason I named my website after a quote pulled from this book– It is a must read! Given the interconnected nature of science, politics and the public, this book should be taught in university science and sustainability curriculum. Professionals and activists already working to improve our futures should read it. We needed to start reframing the way we talk about climate and sustainability yesterday, and this book provides the tools to help us do it.


Published by Alex Setmajer

Sustainability professional driven to help the world continually become a more sustainable place.

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