The narratives we tell ourselves have a powerful role in the climate agency we feel able to take, says Pip Wheaton, at Ashoka.

Transcript: How does cognitive dissonance affect your climate agency?

TEDxLondon Climate Curious

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Climate doom and gloom got you feeling like it’s too late? That you wouldn’t know where to start anyways? Or that you’re not an expert, so what’s the point? The narratives we tell ourselves have a powerful role in the climate agency we feel able to take, says Pip Wheaton, Planet & Climate team at Ashoka, based in New Zealand, on Climate Curious by TEDxLondon. 

Further resources
Follow Pip on Twitter PipWheaton
Follow Ashoka on Twitter Ashoka

Listen to more Climate Curious episodes on the psychology of climate action:
Why you’re hardwired to dislike climate change, with Kris De Meyer
Why climate doomism needs to stop, with Josephine Latu-Sanft
What is the climate positive movement? with Jessica Kleczka 
Why mindfulness is key to climate action, with Sister True Dedication Why there’s much more to climate action than reducing your carbon footprint, with Kris De Meyer


Maryam Pasha:

In this week’s Climate Quickie, we hear from Pip Wheaton, Planet & Climate advisor at Ashoka in New Zealand, on how cognitive dissonance impacts our ability to take climate action.

This one’s for you if you’ve ever struggled with finding climate stuff, well… a bit… ick. 
Tune in to learn how the narratives we are exposed to, and tell ourselves, has a huge impact on our beliefs, and thus the climate agency we feel we are able to take.

Let’s learn more with Pip.

Stay Curious! 

Pip Wheaton:

Hi, I’m Pip Wheaton. I’m on the Ashoka Planet and Climate Team.

I also work for local government in Wellington, in in New Zealand.

So one of the ways that I see climate action being stuck is that we know that more people care than ever before.

We know that we have a huge number of solutions more than ever before. We have technological solutions, we have policy solutions, we have law sorts, and we have a far better understanding of the science than ever before. And yet, even with all of those things, We’re not seeing the change happen fast enough.

So we talk a lot about individuals and their individual behavior change, and that’s really important. Um, and we also talk about systems, but I think increasingly people are realizing that that’s a false dichotomy. Yeah. And so if we take the assumption that systems are created and [00:04:00] made up of individuals, what are the how-tos, what are the strategies, the tactics?

Forgetting those individuals to shape systems differently. And so what we, what we did was the same thing that Ashoka almost always does, which is we, we looked to the Ashoka fellows. And so the Ashoka fellows are these incredible social entrepreneurs all around the world who’ve got a network of, um, of several thousand,4,000, um, in 90 countries.

75% of them are from the global south.

Um, and so in partnership with the Skoll Center, um, I did a piece of work, a piece of research with Dr. Mariah Becher of the academic director and we distilled three strategies. And there are a number of different tactics that sit underneath them, but the overarching strategies are, the first one is making it personal.

The second one is curating support, and the third one is realigning systems.

So it’s making it personal. Curating support and realigning systems

Say Well, no, I also think it is, humans are so flipping complex, right? Yeah. We have so many internal contradictions,

If you fully own up to the true extent of your own influence and power, then you need to change everything. Everything. So it’s actually like a really scary thing to do. And so you are like internally, you uh, You create protection mechanisms.

And so you convince yourself that actually, like I either, I’m too small, I, it’s too hard, it’s too late. I’m not actually part of the problem. I’m just providing the services that people need. You know, people want to drive their cars and so we, you know, you tell yourself all of these things and I think there is a lot of cognitive dissonance.

That’s it.

Maryam Pasha:

And I think we really underestimate how powerful cognitive dissonance actually is in how it drives our behavior.

Pip Wheaton:

I think it’s about speaking to emotions. Yep. Climate change is such a technical topic, but when we talk about the technicalities, you trigger this frame of like, well, experts need to fix this. Yes. And I’m not an expert.

And if you talk about it in terms of like the catastrophic impacts, if you don’t then have a clear call to action, you can trigger this like doom and gloom. It’s too big, it’s too late. Yes. Um, frame. And so I think that if you can tap into the emotions, Which, you know, it’s, it’s not to say that that won’t necessarily include some fear, but tap into the the other emotions too, like care, care is such a powerful one.

What are the people and places and things that you care about? Yeah. And for me, I often think that climate action is a form of care

So one of the things that’s like central to this research is like the concept of agency. And how a person believes that they can impact the world. Yes. And our beliefs are shaped by so many different things.

And as we dug into that more, we started to engage with the concept of narratives and, and, and when we use the word narratives, like, because I think there’s lots of different ways to interpret it. What, what we mean by that is like, what are the collective stories that we tell as a society that help us make sense of the world and therefore shape how we move through it?

Yes. And to be clear, like narratives are fluid. They ebb and flow. We can have like internally inconsistent narratives. Yeah. That we believe at any one time. Like it’s really fascinating. Um, but one of the pieces of research that I, that I came across showed that, um, specifically for climate action Yep.

People’s belief about whether or not change was possible was the biggest determinant of whether or not they acted. And so at the moment, we are in this, this point in time where the dominant narrative is around doom and gloom and, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s really important that we’ve got into the place that people are starting to wake up and go, oh my goodness, climate change is real.

It’s not a future generation thing. It’s happening now. It’s happening in, you know, Um, fires in Australia and California and siberia’s happening in flooding in New Zealand in this year, heat domes and, and changes to our really patterns that are clearly identifiable things, things that people go, oh, that, yes, that thing, that’s climate change.

That’s great. We needed that moment of awakening collectively. However, if we stay in that place of doom and gloom, we stay overwhelmed and we don’t believe that change is possible. And if we don’t believe that change is possible, that belief becomes a self-fulfilling, basically. And so the thing that we are really curious about is like, if, if that’s the, the narrative of doom and gloom and that’s gonna stop action, then what are the narratives of climate agency.

That help people realize their power.



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