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Blog by Dave McArthur 17 April 2007

I am almost used to be the lone dissenter but really I am happier when agreeing with the people around me. Especially when it is with 120 “climate change believers” at Victoria University seminar in Wellington NZ on communicating “the climate change story”. They are probably all nice caring folk and that what makes the fact that most of them are massive deniers so concerning.

Of course they believe other people are the deniers. Those of us who do not think climate change is bad are frequently referred to as “the deniers” during the three and half hours of the seminar. I come with a question that many here will find very unpalatable and already I am feeling physically sick at the thought of asking it. The thought of public speaking and especially the thought of challenging what good people hold dear usually leaves me in pain, exhausted and nauseas. Usually I do not even get a chance to speak but still I suffer the hangover. And my question today is a real biggie which will seem completely out of left field to most present.

Here’s the guff on the seminar.

Making Change – taking the initiative on climate change communications

Old Government Buildings, Lecture Theatre 1 (situated at the back of the main building)Victoria University of Wellington

Wednesday 11th April 2007, 8.45am – 12.15pm

This conference is for people who are interested in exploring how to engage New Zealanders with climate change more effectively. Representatives from all sectors are welcome and particularly those actively involved in public communications and communications planning with regard to climate change. At the end of the event, participants will be asked to give their feedback on communication initiatives that they would like see developed further.

Time Content Session Leader

8.45 – 9.00 Introduction Assoc. Prof. Ralph Chapman (VUW)

9.00 – 9.30 Where are we in New Zealand? – A synthesis of relevant research relating to awareness, attitudes and behaviours Peter Salmon (Moxie Design) and Nick Jones (Nick Jones and Associates)

9.30 – 10.15 ‘The Rules of the Game’ – An introduction to climate change communications and the work of Futerra ( Solitaire Townsend and Lucy Shea, (Futerra) – Videolink.

10.15 – 10.35 Break

10.35 – 11.05 Risk perception and models for behaviour change Assoc. Prof. John McClure (VUW) and Assoc. Prof. James Liu (VUW)

11.05 – 11.35 The media, climate change and gettingyour story out there Kim Griggs (freelance journalist)

11.35 – 11.55 Closing the gap between science and action in the USA – Insights from the Yale Science to Action Collaboration Daniel Abbasi (Former Associate Dean of Yale Forestry and Environment School) – Videolink.

11.55 – 12.10 Ideas for climate change communications in New Zealand and audience feedback Alex Hannant (Mandarin Communications)

Booking your place To book a place at this event please RSVP to Alex Hannant at Mandarin Communications.

While attendance is free of charge, capacity is limited. Places will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

To ensure an equitable and representative spread of participants, please ensure only the most appropriate individuals from your organisation are nominated to attend.

Mandarin Communications

This event has been developed and organised by Alex Hannant from Mandarin Communications in association with Victoria University of Wellington (Institute of Policy Studies and the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences) and the British Council. M 021 255 2278 T 04 970 8287

“The facts of climate change cannot be left to speak for themselves. They must be actively communicated with the right words, in the right dosages, packaged with narrative storytelling that is based rigorously on reality, personalized with human faces, made vivid through visual imagery – and delivered by the right messengers… Social science methods have not been adequately applied to date – and that must change, given the stakes.” Daniel Abbasi

I am seated early and watch as technicians fiddle with nobs trying to find the sound to the large screen showing individuals talking in another lecture room somewhere – it could be next door or it could be 12000 miles away. I know anything is possible with the technology that now exists but chances are it wont be very sustainable if my experience of Victoria University this last two decades holds true.

Existing technology means it is well possible, for instance, that I could be at home watching and interacting with the seminar using broadband over our local utility network if Wellington was a sustainable city but it is not. A decade ago in a more fascist moment our Council under Mayors Fran Wilde and Mark Blumski decided the utility grid was “not core” to Wellington’s interests and gave it away to TransAlta, a North American corporation based in Calgary, Canada.

TransAlta and its successor. Utilitcorp of the USA, gutted the system before skipping and now it is literally falling over. (Memo to self: really must put a photo essay of collapsing poles on my website for posterity).

Fortunately the capital city’s grid is now owned by the Auckland community who evidence some civic responsibility and their company, Vector Ltd, is now replacing 1800 of the seriously stressed poles. NZ ownership of Vector may be very temporary as powerful moves are a foot to transfer control of Vector to overseas-based corporations too. Anyway because of those fascist acts I am stuck with an Internet link where it took me 45 minutes to download an 11-minute audio at 2.8 kbps this week. No chance of intelligent uses of electricity now, less still an intelligent virtual link to this seminar!

Victoria University supplied more than a fair share of the business graduates who formed the shock troopers of the consulting firms like Arthur Andersen and Co, KPMG etc who masterminded the demolition of the local grid in the 1990s and made the city so unsustainable. So its always a bit surreal being at Vic Uni and listening to its academics now wring their hands at problems their institution did so much to create.

Actually it feels doubly surreal sitting here today. Of all the “education” institutions in New Zealand, Victoria University is, in my experience the greatest obstacle to the New Zealand public understanding the marvellous processes of our climate and human’s role in the carbon cycle. Its faculty members have been at the forefront in creating confusion and ignorance.

I have raved elsewhere in my blogs about the Energy Action programme that was put into 1400 of our schools by local communities last century through the likes of Wellington city’s Capital Power (now demolished), Hutt Mana Energy Trust (now demolished) and Christchurch city’s South Power (now rendered impotent by the National/Act Party-Max Bradford Electricity Reforms of 1998).

Energy Action taught our primary school children the importance of carbon in our lives and how to calculate their impact of turning light/heating switches on and off on CO2 balances in the atmosphere. Victoria University has been at the forefront of destroying the programme and replacing it with Enviroschools, a programme that was deliberately designed to omit role of the atmosphere and carbon in our lives. As Vics’ senior environmental education facilitator, in her role as President of the NZ Association for Environmental Education, was fond of arguing, “There is no room for another resource beside Enviroschools in our schools”. And so that programme now dominates Environmental Education in New Zealand. As I have detailed in more recent blogs, this domination is set to escalate with the recent Green Party/Labour Budget agreement pouring several millions of taxpayer’s dollars into it.

Her suppression of debate of the communication of climate issues goes far further. In 2002 I wrote to our Prime Minister, Helen Clark, suggesting that our use of the Greenhouse model of the atmosphere could well lack science and be counterproductive. Research by the Frameworks Institute in 2006 now supports my hypothesis.

I proposed an alternative Trace model teaching about the role and power of trace gases in our climate. I still have vivid memories of the meeting of representatives of a number of Government departments and institutions such as the Royal society that was called.

I stood up and in my usual clumsy, nervous, public speaking manner began my explanation using flow charts I had constructed…

Well, I think most of the people in the room were pretty stunned by what happened. I was barely two sentences into my exposition when Vic’s senior EE facilitator, present in her role as NZAEE president physically pulled down my charts, stopped my delivery, shouted at me that I did not have a clue what I was talking about and effectively shut down the meeting. Indeed she condemned my work saying, “ This is just science”. At that point I gave away thoughts of a job teaching in New Zealand.

There have been other occasions when she had used her position as NZAEE president to actively suppress the promotion of carbon education in this way, as I detailed in earlier blogs. At the 2002 NZAEE national conference we had spent 5 hours erecting a stand displaying the Energy Action 2008 resource. I returned from lunch to find it dismantled, tossed in a corner and replaced with Enviroschools and the President only permitted us to display (in a relatively invisible area) after I discussed the possibility of legal action. The positive side is her actions meant I have been left with plenty of time to reflect in my years on the dole and generated the Bonusjoules–Junkjoules concept etc.

Her actions caused me to become intrigued as to how Vic Uni “facilitated” Environmental Education into our schools and I applied to attend one of their day seminars with teachers. The Vic facilitators found every reason over the next 18 months to prevent me attending so that it got to the point where I offered to write to the Hon Trevor Mallard (then Minister of Education) informing him that Vic Environmental Education was so direly under-funded that it could not afford the airspace of a seat in the provincial town of Masterton.

Of course there was heaps of space and I found that indeed the Vic University education facilitators were using their positions to push Enviroschools as THE resource. When some of the secondary teachers present began detailing some of the resources they needed I made my only verbal contribution for the day and said, “Go down to your local primary school and you may find just what you are asking for tucked in the back of their libraries….” I was cut off in most decisive manner by Vic’s senior facilitator at that point.

Other Vic University faculty members have dismissed me with contempt when I have questioned the effectiveness of their attempts in educating the public about “climate change”. An example is:

 You seem intent on being negative about just about everything and this of course is your choice. I do not share the same negative view.”

I detect little evidence of science in such responses. Similarly others members have displayed little interest in my ideas and only want to know where I come from:

 “ Oh, you are a school janitor. Well I am a very busy person…clonk of phone.” End of conversation.

So here I sit, probably the lone dissenter in a lecture room full of deniers. Still it can make for some very funny experiences. I had had quite a few chuckles reading the 15-page background paper starting with its title, “Problems with the climate change story”. The whole rationale of it is based on the assumption that climate change is a problem and inherently bad.

This is how I see it. The “climate” and “change” symbols are some of the most powerful symbols humans have created and our cells resonate with the knowledge that our existence is possible because a climate exists and that we would not be but for change. Or as the old sage Buddha put it 2500 years ago, “Everything changes, nothing remains without change”. So to say climate change is bad is to generate major dissonance in any sane person.

This dysfunctional behaviour is endemic. I have just done a quick search on Google and find page on page where “climate change” is described as “a global problem”,one of the greatest threats to people, economies and ecosystems  Billions Face Risks From Climate Change”  “Stop climate change-Greenpeace international” and such amazing concepts as the European Commissions "You Control Climate Change". Wikipedia starts off sane but soon degenerates – about the point it mentions the ideas of Environmental Educators. It also equates “climate change” (bad) with “global warming” (bad).

So in the Google virtual world, which now determines and defines so much of our culture, the “climate” and “change” symbols are co-joined to be associated with sickness, with malevolence, with threat. Just like the pharmaceutical companies frame the aging process as an illness. This seminar is just part of a more universal syndrome. My prepared question, in case you are wondering, is a simple one: Can the speakers tell us the Principle of the Conservation of Energy and why this seminar framed to deny it?

I figure this question goes to the heart of the public confusion that the seminar is so concerned about. The Conservation Principle expresses the essence of life, the bounteous nature of energy, the vitality of change. Few of us fully accept our mortality or our roles as stewards of transitory resources and, as those canny old Buddha explained with such brilliance so long ago, our denial of change is the central source of our misery.

I doubt many will understand my question as there is no evidence from the seminar’s preliminary literature of much knowledge of psychology and how our choice of symbols reflects our primal being, the great subconscious sun within where the doubts, fears, longings, hopes and optimism of every cell in our being are forged into the decisions we make. Nor does the literature evidence much awareness that we are mirror beings. If our brains were not laced with mirror neurons as they are we could not even begin to create civilisations at all. A by-product of our mirroring powers is the fact that we cannot trade away the reality created by our actions. Our actions are mirrored in those around us in a self perpetuating way.

I very much doubt my major question will generate the next questions: Why do so many people in this room, most of whom profess to love and work for the sustaining of our environment, deny the vital element of change inherent in the Conservation Principle? Why do they blame the natural order for problems caused by our actions? Why do they not use symbols in today’s seminar that reflect the real issue that faces us – the probability of a Human-Induced Thermal Build-Up or an Anthropogenic Heat-Up of the atmosphere?

The answer to these questions is all around me. I hear snippets of conversation such as:

“Did you fly in this morning?… No, try to avoid the red-eye. Flew in last night…”

“When I was in London last week…..”
“…I am flying down Dunedin next week..
“ …I’m being sent over to the States ….”
“..I offset my travel by…..


This is the talk of people whose actions are in major contradiction to their professed beliefs and who are calling for change in others while avoiding it in their own activities. And their use of symbols reveals their internal dissonance. Which reminds me to add carbon neutrality to the list of unsustainable symbol uses I am drawing up as I wait. I intend to count how often the following symbol uses are employed:

 “Climate change” (=bad)
“global warming” (= bad, warming up)
“Greenhouse gases”; “greenhouse effect”
“Climate denial”
“Carbon neutral”

“Carbon neutral”? The concept is nonsense to me – a massive denial of the Conservation Principle. It takes eons for transformations of biomass into coal, Gas and oil to occur. Once we have burned the limited supplies of these resources they are gone for eons.  To try and say our use of carbon can be neutral when our global civilisation is currently based on oil and Gas for its most essential needs is absurd. A jet consumes (destroys) the energy potential of a months food supply for a whole village in a matter of minutes.   “Carbon neutral” is as about as unhelpful as the concepts of “offsetting” and “carbon trading”. Every day is April Fools Day with such concepts. See this Grist posting:

From Grist

Give Me Some of Your Tots
New company offers child offsets

Seems like everyone is offsetting their carbon emissions these days, from presidential hopeful John Edwards to the organizers of the Super Bowl. But what about offsetting their kids? A new venture called TerraTots is offering "child offsets" to parents feeling guilty over bringing wee ones into the world. For $100, TerraTots will offset the ecological impact of high-consuming little Emma or Dylan by working to reduce childbirths in developing countries through the provision of free birth control in underserved communities. "It takes 20 Bangladeshis to equal the ecological footprint of one American," says TerraTot CEO Nick Benedict, "so to offset your kid, you need to prevent the birth of 20 kids in Bangladesh." He emphasizes that all the family-planning services TerraTots offers are completely voluntary. Hollywood celebs have already jumped at the newest marker of green cred -- Julia Roberts has offset her twins, and Gwyneth Paltrow was overheard bragging how eco-friendly Apple and Moses have become.

[ email | discuss | + digg | + ]

straight to the source: Los Angeles Times, David Iglesias, 01 Apr 2007

straight to the source: San Francisco Chronicle, Carol Lam, 01 Apr 2007

The seminar starts and I will restrict myself to my reflections. Victoria University’s Institute of Policy Studies intends to post as much as possible of the presentations on their website.

We start with a communications check: are we all climate change believers? Much nodding in assent. Are there any “sceptics” present? One individual raises his hand and his presence is welcomed. I don’t know what to do. I passionately believe climate change exists with every cell of my body. It is life. I am also very sceptical that science exists in the communication of climate issues by our so-called climate experts. Somehow this does not fit the probable intent of the question. I do not raise my hand.

We are asked if we are “climate change optimists”. About 95% of those present put their hands up, including me. I love life. I often have cause to revel in our changing weather and seasons. Sometimes when I am being mindful of my breath and the flow of air charging me with vitality I experience such gratitude at being alive.

Now if they had asked if I was optimistic about a Human-Induced Thermal Build-Up I would definitely be wavering between pessimism and optimism.  The half or dozen people who indicated they are pessimistic about “climate change” seemed to be younger women and I am not sure what that says. Anyway we were told we need some degree of pessimism about climate change as part of confronting the problem it forms.

Nick? quotes a BBC programme entitled “The world is getting a message but we are still confused”. Yes, we are indeed still confused and the communications check just performed was a classic example of it.

STOP PRESS. How amazing. A friend has just emailed me this article by George Monbiot in The Guardian.  How serendipitous. It is titled

There is climate change censorship - and it's the deniers who dish it out

…”If you want to know what real censorship looks like, let me show you what has been happening on the other side of the fence. Scientists whose research demonstrates that climate change is taking place have been repeatedly threatened and silenced and their findings edited or suppressed.

The Union of Concerned Scientists found that 58% of the 279 climate scientists working at federal agencies in the US who responded to its survey reported that they had experienced one of the following constraints:”

And at the top of George’s list of attempts at censorship is:

“1. Pressure to eliminate the words "climate change", "global warming", or other similar terms from their communications;”

Well I am not a rational being and suddenly the high regard I traditionally have held you in George seems to have evaporated with this one statement. Are you too a denier of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy?  I can tell you that the responses of these so-called scientists to questions suggesting a lack of science underpinning their use of extremely potent symbols like “climate change” and “greenhouse” is anything but scientific. And that includes a few NZ Royal Society gurus. And yes, I have been refused Government funding because I refused to compromise by denying the Conservation Principle and because I wanted to teach about the nature of trace gases.

Anyway back to the seminar. Nick, bless his humility, makes the comment “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Yes, sure there are people here today who forsake the truth to make a buck or to cling to career prestige but I like to think most have good intentions. However this seeming consensus denial of the Conservation Principle by this assembly sure is a recipe for hell.

I recall my decades as a Bulk-gen electricity meter reader going through thousands of homes preaching that humans can conserve energy. It was devastating one day to realise I was teaching against all I believed in and I had been an unthinking agent for PR Spin. That devastating realisation can be another blog sometime. Just to say I recovered to enjoy a far more meaningful life.

Each of us present was given a piece of paper with some of the numbers 1 to 16 on it. We were told we each represented 38000 New Zealanders and asked to stand when one of our numbers was called. This way we were given a relatively graphic illustration of current demographics – the proportion of us who are baby boomers, the proportion of us who alter our purchasing practices because of environmental considerations etc.


It seems in our responses to “climate change” 5% of us are “trail blazers”, 25% of us are “actively engaged” 40% of us are “passively engaged” and 30% of us “need persuasion”. I don’t know where I fit in. I stopped flying, owning cars and buying meat years ago now but that was because I figured these uses of carbon are unsustainable, put climate balances at risk and form a recipe for war. It was not because I feared climate change. To the contrary. Embracing the dynamic and organic nature of our atmosphere inspired my decisions.

Nick tells us the stats suggest there is an increase in awareness of environmental issues. Here the sceptic in me emerges. Are they measuring what people say or what they do? Our national consumption statistics do not support him. The media wisdom is that we are also in a new age of enhanced “energy consciousness”.

It is true the “energy” symbol is bandied around on an unprecedented scale this last decade. It is equally true that most of the new uses of the “energy” symbol display less science than fifty years ago. I used to have a connection number on the bill from my municipal electricity department. Now I have an ENERGY NUMBER from the “energy company” in the “energy industry” that supplies me “energy.” What a perverted and mean-minded lie.

Also since the 1980s we have seen the advent and rapid growth of the Environmental Education industry and I hypothesise it is no mistake there is less science in our schools or that all the national statistics indicate our country is less sustainable than before its advent. For instance Enviroschools effectively defines both the “energy” and “power” symbols as Bulk-generated electricity. And our teachers think they are communicating science!

Nick tells us that “levels of emotion must be controlled” and doom and gloom stories do not work. I agree with that. My understanding is that change born of hope, inspiration and awe is the most sustaining. I cannot imagine a more doom and gloom world than one in which the Conservation Principle is denied. It is one of unremitting misery. And that is the prime story of this seminar….

He tells us trustworthy information is vital. I agree.  So how can we trust the word of climatologists, meteorologists “energy experts” and others who call themselves “scientists” when their lives and public communications employ symbols that deny the most fundamental precepts of science and that are in direct conflict with their supposed message? Many even believe that warming (state of thermal equilibrium) and warming up (state of thermal non-equilibrium) are the same thing. There is a profound difference. How can you begin to talk about our weather if you don’t know this?

He suggests Al Gores movie was useful and the message to “turn off the lights” is a good start. Hmmmm. I suspect a lot of people turned off that message when they learned Al’s home uses more electricity a month than many large villages use in a year. As I write at 10am on this early autumn day the sensor on the interior of my window reads 9C and the sensor by my keyboard reads 12C.

A far better message is that we need a political revolution so that we can make intelligent uses of electricity and the sun. In New Zealand the Bulk-generator merchant bankers with their Electricity Reforms now punish me severely if I install my own micro turbines so I can use more energy more sustainably and make my local grid more resilient. The Wellington City Council actively encourages the destruction of our direct access to the sun so we can use more energy to keep warm.

Nick emphasises that “we need to get the message the same”. I agree with that. I dream that one day every one can know the sense of wonder and awe and bounty inherent in the Conservation Principle. But that’s a very different message to what this seminar is promoting. Its message is one of denial and deprivation. (Yes my fingers a bit stiff with the cold as I write.)

He says we need solutions, not discussion; persuasion, not lectures; and to tell stories that support people’s view of the world. Yes, now there’s a thought: what’s say the elite of carbon emitters stop, look and listen to those who generate minimal carbon emissions while experiencing lives of superior joy and happiness to them. We might have to create video links to places like Vanuatu and Colombia and, just as nicotine addicts can be reminded that life can exist without tobacco by happy non-smokers, so can car-jet addicts be reminded there can be greater life in less carbon intense activities.

The next presentation is a slick video link with Futerra in Britain. It starts well and I become excited as the speaker introduces the concept of cognitive dissonance

Yahoo! These guys could be onto it. Futerra explain that when values are out of kilter with behaviour then attitudes change, not behaviour. However Futerra then fails to go deeper into our psychology and explain that when values and behaviour are in conflict then this dysfunction is expressed in the employment of symbols that deny the natural order from which the values are drawn. The symbols are deconstructed to eliminate the science in them so the natural order can be denied. This denial reduces the tension caused by the primal dysfunction in the speaker. It also means they talk nonsense and create confusion in the listener.

It becomes clearer Futerra does not understand such fundamentals of psychology. This can be seen in statements such as ”It’s not true that climate change is natural.” Are they saying life is unnatural? Similarly they quote the Carbon Trust and its contention that humans can “save energy”. They clearly do not understand the nature of energy. It cannot be sustained or saved by humans because it is sustained by its very nature. This is PR industry Energy Gobbledygook. I suspect they are confusing energy with the forms it takes, some of which can be conserved to a degree.

They mention Al Gore’s movie and suggest it brought the issue of climate change out of science into the public arena. Think about it. This statement only makes sense if you think the science is this little distinct box out there somewhere and the public area is devoid of science. At the time of its release I predicted that the movie, combined with Victoria University’s 2006 Climate Change and Governance Conference would tend to confuse the NZ public, destroy science and reduce concern about the impact of human impact on the thermal balances of the atmosphere that sustain us. Futerra goes on to inform us that for some reason concern in New Zealand has recently dropped from 74% to 69%.

They then proceed to make the extraordinary statement that understanding the science (of “climate change”) is not essential to acting on it. What? I cannot understand how humans could have lasted a million years as self-aware beings if the vast bulk of our activities had not been based on science. Science sustains us. We are each scientists. If our relationship with our environment was not based on science in almost every act of our lives then the odds are we would long ago got completely out of harmony with all and become extinct.

I would word things another way to Futerra: the symbols we employ in our discussion of potential human impacts on climate balances need be based in science (including the Conservation Principle). If they are not then they will fail to resonate with the science existing in the public and so create dissonance. This will in turn generate and promote unsustainable activities. 

Futerra then outlines a series of communication principles in communicating the need for behaviour change in response to “climate change. Most of the principles by themselves make sense. However they will be of relatively little help in communicating climate processes when the overall framework is so fundamentally flawed. These principles state, for instance:

*Do not rely on appealing to concerns for our children’s welfare or the survival of humanity – our responses to our environment are measured in seconds.

*There is no rational man.

*Info cannot work alone.

*Use transmitters i.e. encourage people to pass on the ideas.

*Create agencies for “combating climate change” (Whoop! Whoop! Science loss alert)

*Raise the status of climate change mitigation behaviours.

*Create trusted voices.

*Communications must be sustained over time.

*People act in a similar way to the actions of the company they are in.

*The eyes have it – one study indicates the most memorable moment in the Al Gore movie was the polar bear because we saw its eyes. (I understand that. I heard on Nat Radio this week that people eat less at a banquet if a statue placed in the middle of the table is looking at them than when it is facing away.)

*Seeing is believing. (Yep, we are Mirror Beings.)

*Only when we can imagine something… (My note fades out – probably because I was thinking how we are mirror beings and how unhelpful it is to teach our children to imagine Earth’s atmosphere as a greenhouse as I saw this morning in Wellington Regional Council education resource kit. Understand some of the members of the Council are also our nation’s top educators and broadcasters. )

*Remind remind remind (Hmm that reminds me -what’s the score so far. Climate change =bad: 102 reminders, warming=warming up: 4 reminders. Oh and only one Earths atmosphere=greenhouse:

That’s a small blessing.)

*The three three Rule –33% of people say they are will to pay more for more sustainable goods but only 3% do – “People simply forget”. (What? Simply forget? Only 10% of the people who set off to watch a rugby match at their local stadium or to their hair saloon actually get there? This explanation shows little awareness of the primal processes in our psychology. People decide they would rather not remember to avoid experiencing dissonance. I would put it this way: Its tens times more useful to measure what people do then what they say.)

*”Reduce energy use”  (As discussed earlier, a damn unhelpful rule.)

* Feedback is essential.

* The bystander effect – the more people present at some incident the less chance anyone will intervene to do something about it.

*Beware token behaviours  (Whoop! Whoop! This one should ring strong alarm bells about behaviour rationalisations, such as “carbon neutrality” and “carbon trading.” Stewardship and moral levels are in free fall with these concepts.)

* Make it a pleasure (Yep, cannot imagine anything more pleasurable than knowledge of the inspiring Conservation Principle.

*Go beyond the usual suspects.

Here Futerra describes behaviour types as either pioneers, settlers and prospectors and is suggesting pioneers, for instance, should try to understand what drives the behaviour of the other groups and see how they can tap that potential. Click here to read more about these behavioural groups. 

Futerra ends with one of the famous misquotes of our times: The Chinese definition of the “crisis” symbol is that it means a time of danger plus opportunity. My reading is that the probable Chinese definition of “crisis” is rather more thoughtful, realistic and, dare I say it, more scientific.

After smoko John McClure discusses the relative roles of optimism and pessimism in risk analysis and behavioural response. Somehow I don’t find this angle very useful, particularly the idea that pessimism generates more “realistic” appreciations of risks and more sustainable behaviour. I associate pessimism with powerlessness, fear, doubt, and fatalism. Maybe I am just mishearing John.

He points out there are biases in risk perception and we are not casual about all risks eg we take high level precautions crossing the road whereas we take less seriously what we perceive as low frequency long term risks –such as “climate change”.

He suggests, “People are denying the (climate change) science – what scientists are saying.” I suggest the alternative explanation is people detect the lack of science in the communication of these so-called scientists and the way they frame their messages. And many of us think it nonsense to even talk of some select group of humans as “scientists” because that denies the reality of most of us: we all enjoy science  or science beings to some degree. Sorry to bang on about this one but I figure it goes to the heart of the spirit that sustains humanity.

John then discusses denial and says it is very tricky to change because it reduces anxiety and how people who are more vulnerable tend to deny more. I look around the lecture room. I can see prominent Green Party people, our leading meteorologists, Royal Society gurus and our top Environmental Education and Environment Protection agency bods present. These people with all their knowledge of how human activities impact on planetary balances are just so incredibly vulnerable. No wonder they have to deny life so they can continue their current activities. If their use of certain key symbols were to be underpinned by science then each use would form an indictment of their lives in their own minds and in the minds of their audiences.

He then discusses how inaction occurs because “people think they are better off than others” .He quotes our misplaced belief in our “Clean Green Image” of New Zealand. I suggest we maintain an even bigger misconception, which is that New Zealand embraces democracy. The NZ Electricity Reforms that I mentioned earlier dominate our culture and contain no element of democracy. They work to destroy “exemplars of sustainable activity”; destroy “self efficacy” or the competency of people to act; obscure the “focus on useful actions”; and in general eliminate the measures John proposes for countering fatalism.

He frames a more profound example of the confusion and denial in our culture than he probably intends. 

John relates that when people are asked, “Can we prevent climate change? “ then people answer no. When asked, “Can we cut energy use in this house?” then people answer yes. I am not at all sure what this is telling us. I agree with all those people who say we cannot prevent climate change because I see no reason to deny the natural order of the universe. And of course I can cut down my use of our resources in my house – but what’s the purpose if I just end up cold and sick when I can directly use solar and wind resources without destroying the climate balances that sustain us?

On the subject of what messages work best John suggests the following:

*Anxiety messages are counterproductive.
*Provide focus on actions and not just the risks.
*Motivation counts – and its not always rational.

I check my list. I have picked up 124 uses of the symbol “climate change = bad” now.

He finishes with a mention of an essay called The Tragedy of the Commons” by Hardin.It seems to be about game theory and looks intriguing – could well be a blog in it. My first thought is of the tragedy of the state of our New Zealand media and its promotion of the disenfranchisement of our people from our commons this last decade. Which brings me to the next speaker.

I enjoy Kim’s portrayal of our media and most around me seem to smile in sad agreement as she details what constitutes news in this country. No one leaps up and defends our media as bastions of truth. In brief, for an item to be considered it must have one or more of these qualities:”

*Frequency: it fits into the “news” cycle.

*Negativity: bad = good.

*Threshold: must be above a certain level of public awareness.

*Unambiguity: needs to be uncomplicated

*Unexpectedness: “Man bites dog”

Kin points out there are no full time “science” or “environmental” news reporters in New Zealand and “news” outlets are cutting back on reporting capacity.

I am beginning to feel more nervous and groggy. Soon it will be question time and I may have a chance to ask my question of this gathering. So I am surprised and grateful when the final speaker provides much light relief. Again it’s a video link, this time to the US and the Former Associate Dean of Yale Forestry and Environment.

Daniel has been involved in a Yale project titled “Americans and Climate Change – Closing the gap between science and action.” This alone sets me off with the giggles. I cannot articulate the nonsense I detect. Perhaps it is the way science is portrayed as something out there, distinct from our lives. This is such a ludicrous concept and perhaps it reminds me of the delusions underpinning US foreign policy.

Daniel tells us how he was involved in organising a two- day retreat of 100 “extraordinary” leaders and thinkers from many occupations. The purpose was to diagnose why the US has been so slow to act on the issue of “climate change” and to make recommendations for ameliorating actions. It was about “encouraging responsibility” and to show climate change is “not just an environmental issue”.  You can read the results in a 1 Mb free down load at

I am then rendered to an embarrassing shaking heap under my desk with tears of silent mirth running down my face as Daniel says with a straight face and without a hint of irony. “..everyone flew in – it was very much an icebreaker”.  It turns out the retreat was held in an isolated place in the Colorado mountains and for some reason choice of this secluded site was very important. Also as a matter of principle they did not invite any “sceptics” as they might affect the spirit of the occasion.

Maybe I missed important new ideas in Daniel’s presentation. He mentioned that a business leader came up with some very good contributions. I wonder if that was to promote carbon trading?  Afer all the money merchants have to find a new home for those trillions of dollars slopping around the glob as their owners seek new ways of extracting wealth from communities. I have watched it happening already in New Zealand as our Government forks out our money in the form of carbon credits to companies doing “business as usual.”

The seminar winds up with a small ad for Victoria University, which apparently is “leading with the answers” on climate change. Well the jury is out on that one if my reflections have veracity. I do have a big bouquet. If I had gotten to speak my first act would have been to express my gratitude that Victoria University did make the seminar accessible to the relatively impoverished rabble like myself so ideas can be subject to greater scrutiny and our use of key symbols can be better debated. Too often their seminars are exclusive events and contain large price barriers.  I know most of the answers Vic is looking for exist in the community already and maybe this seminar will provide access to some of them.

As Ralph Chapman reiterates in summing up, “ We need consistent messages that make sense.” I agree and you cannot get anything more consistent than the Principle of the Conservation of Energy –it’s the nearest thing we have to a natural law and no one has ever flawed it yet. When we accept it and live in accord with it then we can begin to enjoy harmony with all.

Symbol use score in brackets:

Climate change = bad (153). This score does not include a couple of uses in which climate change may have been associated with the natural order.

Global warming = warming up or bad (4). There were zero uses of Global warming = warming (no temperature change) or represents the natural order.

Atmosphere = greenhouse (2). No mention of trace gases.

The low use rate of these two common uses of “warming” and “greenhouse” could well have been because little content in the seminar was devoted to explaining atmosphere processes.

“Deniers”/ “denial” of climate change. I lost count but it was a constant theme.

“Carbon neutral” (3). There was little discussion of ameliorating strategies.

Footnote re the cartoon that accompanies this blog. It was drawn after the 2003 (and 2001) crises in supply of Bulk-generated electricity in New Zealand. Overseas readers should know that corrupt Governments in our country since the 1980s have enabled a few large corporations to dominate the supply and use of electricity in our nation. These corporations have abused and corrupted the great “energy’ symbols so they can minimise peak loads in those periods when there is shortage of Bulk-gen electricity while still maintaining maximal consumption of their products and keeping their short and medium term profits high. In particular they abused the “energy” and “energy efficiency” symbols so they have become associated with deprivation and fear. This in turn works to make the population more malleable and enables the corporations to extend their control over our economy.

In the cartoon series Bonus Joules goes to Parliament to see if the Minister of Energy is really God. At this point in the journey Bonus Joules has ended up in the basement of our Parliament trying to consume as much Bulk-gen electricity as possible to stop this unsustainable construct called THE ECONOMY from collapsing. This panel illustrates the fact that Parliament is effectively a mouthpiece for the bankers of the Bulk-gen electricity sector and their spin merchants.

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