Book Club

The Chair read for you Don’t event think about it by George Marshall

Published on 24 January 2022

In his book “Don’t Even Think About It[1], George Marshall explains why we still ignore climate change despite overwhelming scientific evidence. Through the lens of social sciences, Marshall shows that climate change is a psychological challenge. He explains why we, as a species, would rather ignore climate change and its consequences and concludes on how to adapt the narrative to curb our instinctive denial.

As co-founder of the first British non-profit organisation to specialise in public communication around climate change[1], George Marshall has campaigned at different levels for over 25 years on the topics of climate change and social rights. The author draws from his long experience and writes about the many engaging anecdotes he has accumulated to prove his points. 

The book is composed of 39 chapters discussing the psychological barriers to action on climate change. For example, Marshall explains that the scientific data alone is not sufficient in creating a call to action. The IPCC[2] reports alert the rational part of the human brain to the existence of a threat, but it does not necessarily spark a sufficient response from the emotional part of our brain. 

Part of what makes this book interesting is the broad spectrum of participants the author includes and discusses with. Indeed, this book dedicates chapters to his discussions with scientists ranging from Nobel Prize-winning psychologist David Kahneman and other social scientists to world leading climate experts. Far from staying in a scientific bubble, he also narrates his exchanges with liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals. He even shares his discussions with Texas Tea Party activists and other fervent climate change deniers and sceptics. By telling us stories, Marshall appeals to readers on a personal and emotional level, as should be done regarding climate change narratives. 

Marshall concludes that our avoidance of climate change arises from what we all have in common: our human nature. Namely, our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats and how we manage them, our cognitive biases, our need for storytelling, our fear of death and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe. According to the author, the best way to engage a wide audience to take action against climate change is therefore by appealing to these human traits.

The author also suggests reframing the storytelling and adapting it to the different crowds. The many psychological obstacles that refrain us from registering climate change as a real threat should be taken into consideration when creating a narrative on climate change. Speaking to campaigners and politicians, Marshall tells them to “back off and encourage new communicators”. He even suggests environmentalists to “drop the eco-stuff”, teasingly referring to the overused image of polar bears stranded on melting ice. He insists on framing climate change around wider values, such as depicting it as a threat to our home, thereby making it a community-based quest and avoiding political divides. 

This book provides detailed examples for climate-concerned readers to understand the points of view of others, centred around Marshall’s thesis that we are all driven by the same instincts and values. Building on this, Marshall equips us with a great toolkit to better frame the challenge of climate change and set the emotional part of our brain into response. 

Marie Raude, Research Fellow Filling the gap between the financial and economic approaches to the EU ETS: analysing hedging behaviour of market players.

[1] George Marshall,Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, Ed. Bloomsbury, 2014. 242p.

[1] Climate Outreach and Information Network, COIN

[2] IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change