Gordon Kubanek, CACOR Board of Directors, writes on “If we Know Climate Change is a Threat Why aren’t we Doing Anything About It?”
Mental Health is the ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs
- Scott Peck, Psychiatrist
Mysterious pink pony found in Montreal: constantly asks bystanders what the French words for “party”, “cupcake”, and “fun” are.
“I spoke with someone who works on Île Ste-Hélène. He says as far as he knows, no one who works on the island — and there are a good number of people who work here — have seen this pony. He says there’s an event happening this summer and he believes this might be a publicity stunt. The animal rescue team is out looking for the pony anyway. Éric shows me the grain they have to attract the horse. They chose the tastiest grain. Gabrielle Meloche, spokesperson for Parc Jean Drapeau, says she believes the pony is real and that it actually is/was on the island, but she says they’ve checked their security cameras and searched for the pony but haven’t found it.” [9 ]
No surprise, this was a ‘test’ for a local TV station to see how quickly a news item would go viral and how many people would believe ‘news’ that is clearly absurd. This story is relevant to our challenge in communicating the Climate Emergency in this way: it demonstrates both the positive and negative sides of peoples’ desire to believe and to then act based upon that belief. The human brain is, in effect, a belief making organ that seeks out information to support what it ‘believes’ is true. For the human brain, belief is reality . This, as demonstrated by this cute story, can really get us in trouble. However, on the flip side, when we are able to convince people to ‘believe’ in something which is very difficult to deal with [ie. Climate Change] the power of belief, as it quickly becomes a group ‘infection’, enables large groups of people to cooperate and work together for a common goal. Mere rationality does not have this power. Our challenge is thus to use our rationality to identify a pink pony that is real and then to use our ‘believing brain’ to leverage the power of belief that quickly enables large groups of people to join ranks in a common cause.
In this section of the report we use the Stages of Change Model [or Transtheoretical Model, TTM] to examine the psychological obstacles that need to be overcome in Canada that are blocking the value shift needed to achieve a Net Zero Carbon Society. Canada has had a particularly difficult journey as evidenced by the fact that we have signed every single international climate change agreement but never reached any of our stated goals. (Appendix II) It is intellectually fascinating but emotionally frustrating that we have been our complete unable to react at a societal level to a threat that, left unchecked, ensures the destruction of a civilization that has taken 10,000 years to build; a civilization that has supported our population to increase from a few million to almost 8 billion ravenous homo sapiens. We use this model because there is 35 years of evidence to support that reality that only a minority (usually less than 20%) of a population at risk is prepared to take action at any given time. Guidance based on the TTM results in increased participation in the change process because it appeals to the whole population rather than the minority ready to take action. So let’s begin to answer our questions: if we’re so smart why are we acting so stupidly?
People may be fools, but they are not monsters. – Breath, Tim Winton
Helping People to Change
It turns out that the difficulties individuals encountered when trying to stop smoking are similar to those societies trying to ‘kick the fossil fuel’ habit. The Transtheoretical Model (TTM, also called the Stages of Change Model), developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the late 1970s, evolved through studies examining the experiences of smokers who quit on their own with those requiring further treatment to understand why some people were capable of quitting on their own. It was determined that people quit smoking if they were ready to do so. TTM focuses on the decision-making of the individual and is a model of intentional change.  To succeed, you need to understand the three most important elements in changing a behavior:
- Readiness to change: Do you have the resources and knowledge to make a lasting change successfully?
- Barriers to change: Is there anything preventing you from changing?
- Expect relapse: What might trigger a return to a former behavior? 
We will now use this model to elaborate a possible series of conversations with an imaginary person[s] using the steps from this model (see reference 3). Our challenge is to first reduce the threat that people feel when confronted by what Scientists are saying about Climate Change and then to see this as an opportunity to actually make their lives and the lives of their families better than they are today.
Stage 1: Precontemplation – Denial
I think I’ve done my bit – I recycle, compost, I am careful about only buying what I need and only throw things out when they really don’t work anymore – but I have not reduced my driving and it has certainly not affected my flying – if I want a nice holiday down south I take it! If I think about what this choice is doing for climate change [which is seldom, if ever] I just say “f–k it!” – I need a holiday. 60 year old retiree
During the precontemplation stage people do not want to change. A person in stage 1 is resigned to their present situation and does not believe that it can change. They believe that they have no control over climate change (ie. what I do won’t make a difference so why bother?) and are under-informed about the consequences of their actions. If you know someone in this stage, begin by asking them:
Have you ever tried to change any unwanted behavior in the past?
What would it take for you recognize that climate change is a real problem and that you are part of the solution?
What would have to happen for you to consider changing your behavior?
The fact is that many Canadians are in Stage 1. Often they remain stuck there because life is ‘just too much’ and they have neither the financial or emotional resources to contemplate change. They may not feel really content with what they have become and how their life is unfolding. This matters because psychologists tell us :
People who feel good about themselves are more likely to be open-minded!
Here are some real reasons why Canadians may feel this way. They truly are over-whelmed and thus anybody asking more of them is perceived as a threat, and thus they, understandably, shut down. We need to be understanding of this reality and ensure that we acknowledge it.
– Close to half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque (Canadian Payroll Association)
– Canadians savings rate was 20% in 1982 and is 1% today 
– Income inequality in Canada has increased over the past 20 years; we now rank 12th out of 17 peer countries
– Canada leads the world with 9.2% lifetime PTSD prevalence, in spite of a low vulnerability score 
– The opioid-related death rate in Canada in 2017 was estimated at 10.9 per 100,000 population 
Stage 2: Contemplation – Weighing the Benefits vs the Costs
Given that the majority of people who try to change means we must focus on how we can help them see that the benefits of change outweigh the costs. A key part of this is
The Dangers of Identity Politics: Bridge Building to Get Unstuck from Stage 2
We must make sure that all Canadians can focus on what we share in common, rather than our differences. “Climate change has become quite a polarized issue and it often falls down the line of identity,” said Amber Bennett of Climate Outreach, one of the organizers of the Alberta Narratives Project, which released its final report this month. “Communication has a big role to play because it can help broaden that and talk to people about what they care about rather than asking them to be different than who they are.”
“This is not convincing people about policies. It’s about having conversations about options. One thing the project found was that people are tired of bluster. “Alberta First” rhetoric rolled as many eyes as “Shut the Tarsands”. The language comes across as too politic-y, not authentic or genuine,” said Bennett. People wanted language that isn’t so carefully worded and sterilized, but language we use in our everyday conversation. People wanted a sense of acknowledgment that this is hard and it’s going to be hard.” 
Gordon Kubanek, P.Eng.
Green Party of Canada candidate for Carleton