Book Review - The Psychology of Climate Change
Beattie, Geoffrey and McGuire, Laura
(Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon; 2019)
Reviewed by Robin Bodycomb
“Fake news” “Climate change” - Two terms which have entered the common lexicon in relatively recent times. As we read or hear mentioned each of these terms, what is our immediate response, if any? What is the emotional reaction? Or indeed, does it matter what we think? In each of these cases, behind the issues facts are facts irrespective of our emotive responses. Grass is green, daffodils are yellow and the sky is blue whether I like it or not.
The authors of our present text, Beattie and McGuire, both well credentialed in psychology, use this very counterplay as a starting point in their discussion …... there appears to be a monumental disconnect between the science of climate change, and the public’s perception of climate change along with any subsequent responses.
Here at the Environmental Action Group of UCSA, a major focus is the Christian response of church members to issues we believe to be environmental concerns affecting God’s creation; climate change is to the fore amongst these issues. A worrying aspect of this is denial – denial either that climate change is in fact real, or denial that though climatic changes are real, they are influenced by human activity. Such denial is seen in society generally, and, to be frank, is also found within our churches. “Climate change is fake news.” Within the pages of “The Psychology of Climate Change” we are helped toward an understanding of climate change denial, and to some extent we are directed to an awareness of how to approach such denial.
Without giving too much away, and undermining any enjoyment of the book, I can reveal that the argument used draws upon the influence of psychoanalyst Ernest Dichter. In mid-20th century USA, Dichter successfully led the way in the extensive promotion of smoking, despite growing evidence at that time of the dangers of tobacco to personal health. As we tease apart the approaches used by the tobacco industry over 50 years ago, we gain insight into the similar current approaches used by the fossil fuel industry. Conversely, Beattie and McGuire then look closely at the failures of major environmental campaigns which have addressed pollution and climate change.
As a final taster: where does each one of us stand in relation to this imbalance of fact v. opinion on a personal level? Future reviews will target this issue further because it is critical to our outreach. For this present book review though I dangle before you this carrot: “confirmation bias”. The name itself hints at its nature. Further reading of this text is recommended to grasp more fully the details and prevalence of this anchor of human thought and behaviour.
We recommend this for those who seek to better understand what lies behind the difficulty of climate change denial, and suggest its value for any church (environmental) library. Be aware, however, of the detail and discussion of academic research.