My favorite band is Radiohead. Yes, some people may think they’re mind-numbing, but I love their music. As a result, when the lead singer, Thom Yorke, includes links to articles on his Twitter feed, I’m likely to click on it. I recently read one he posted by English environmental activist George Monbiot about the tone of the environmental movement, and why a movement that has been factually recognized for so long has failed to produce the serious change it demands.
Paraphrased from the article, he says it’s like this: more conservative policies like privatization and cutting public services promulgate extrinsic values (celebrity, status within a community, body image, prestige), while intrinsic values (kindness, concern for others, self-acceptance, and independent thought) are repressed. Conservative policies make people much more concerned about themselves, because government help is so minimal in the case of failure. The West has trended to more conservative governments since the 1980’s with President Reagan. When applied to the anti-climate change movement when threatening language is used in relationship to a phenomena or event, it makes people pay a lot more attention to what he or she has earned, what the individual can control (extrinsic values), as it conjures a type of survivalist instinct. The latter part of this argument is still in the realm of experimental sciences, but it makes sense to me.
I remember being in driver’s ed class, and they showed us these incredibly graphic videos about what happens when you text and drive, get into an accident, etc. It was horrible, and I remember feeling like I had to leave and my brain just kind of shutting down, and even feeling sick. I can absolutely understand how terrible a person who doesn’t feel empowered to change their situation might shut down in this manner when considering climate change. Fortunately, Monbiot has a plan for success- using positive language like “the natural world” instead of environment, or “rewilding” instead of conservation. I love words and language, and these small details really do have an impact on people’s perceptions. I’m now committed to being more positive in my words and actions, because I really do believe in Monbiot’s message that people must understand and connect to what’s really happening, instead of feeling threatened and lunging to protect and work for what’s theirs. We are, at heart, a collaborative society, and I’m hoping to encourage that throughout my work this summer.