Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Behavioural Change: The Guaranteed-to-Fail Climate Solution

SPOTLIGHT: Changing people’s behaviour is profoundly difficult.

BIG PICTURE: The media is in a tizzy this week over the latest climate change research published in America’s PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

The paper is titled “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene.” Once again we see what is supposed to be a reputable organization – the National Academy – misleading the public into believing that the anthropocene is an official geological epoch rather than a figment of activist imagination.

But putting that aside, the abstract ends this way:

Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values. [bold added]

Behavioural changes. Transformed social values. Only academics who haven’t the first foggy clue how the real world works, could write such impractical nonsense.

Widespread behavioural change is simply not possible. Not without turning the entire planet into a police state.

Persuading medical doctors – highly educated, professionally motivated individuals – to wash their hands thoroughly enough to remove harmful bacteria before they move on to the next patient is notoriously difficult. It was difficult in the mid-1800s and it remains difficult today.

The reasons are simple. Doctors are human beings. They’re often rushed. Their minds are often distracted. They’re impatient. Fully aware of what constitutes correct behaviour, they nevertheless fail this test on a regular basis.

You can read all about this phenomenon in the 2011 book SuperFreakonomics. Or in this online transcript of a 2012 radio show featuring Stephen Dubner, one of the book’s co-authors. Toward the end, he says:

It’s humbling, isn’t it? To think that the best-educated people in the hospital need to be tricked and shamed and even frightened into washing their hands. It shows just how hard behavior change can be…

Parents, teachers, coaches, workplace supervisors, religious leaders, police officers, and certain other government officials spend a great deal of time telling people not to do all manner of things. If behaviour change were easy, there’d be no more lying, cheating, stealing, back-stabbing, substance abuse, unprotected sex, and so on.

But even threats of serious consequences such as disease, job loss, incarceration, and eternal damnation are insufficient. We’re no closer to eliminating those behaviours than the Ancient Romans were.

TOP TAKEAWAY: Whatever the future may hold, we’ll need all the technological fixes we can muster. Billions of people aren’t going to just fall into line. We won’t be voluntarily, en masse and in a timely manner, altering our behaviour because ivory tower academics think we should.


SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner


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This entry was posted on August 8, 2018 by in activist scientists and tagged , .
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