The psychology of rejection
As an environmental management consultant over the past 30 years or so, and a practitioner in energy efficiency, greenhouse gas management and sustainability, I, like so many others, have been frustrated by the lack of global action and agreement on greenhouse gas abatement mechanisms and policy. Even more than frustration, I have been fascinated and intrigued by a number of behavioural patterns and the recurring questions in my mind: Why do some people reject the science of climate change?
I have come up with the following seven thoughts and theories. These will be presented over a number of blogs.
A. The need to belong
This is what normally happens to me. I’m at a private or public function and after I’m introduced to someone and asked what I do, and I explain that I’m an environmental management consultant and a specialist in climate change and energy efficiency. Almost before I finish my sentence, my listener who is a invariably male and over 50, interrupts me to say something like “I don’t believe in climate change”. Most go beyond that and say something like “I think it’s a rort, a sham” or words to that effect. I’m so used to this that I don’t react and without changing my tone or show any emotion, I ask the person “and what expertise in climate change to do have?” Without exception, the response is “I actually don’t have any expertise, I just don’t believe it”. Again, I don’t react, I stay calm and ask for further clarification saying “is it the science that you don’t believe?”. Again, invariably, I’m told “I just don’t think climate change is happening, and even if it is, I don’t think humans are responsible for it”.
The above conversation, or similar, has taken so many times, that I am astounded by the consistency and regularity of it. It is this consistency that has made me investigate and research the reasons, and the psychology behind it. Here is my explaining of it in terms of branding, of identity and belonging.
Humans are essentially and necessarily social animals and the need for belonging to a mob or a tribe is vital for identity and our instincts for survival dating back to the time when we lived in caves. This instinct appears more prevalent in males and particularly those with some sense of responsibility – the baby boomers. There are many badges we all wear to belong to a group or mob; the football team we follow; the religious group we belong to; where we live; even the type of food we eat. I cannot find any other reason why a polite, intelligent stranger, having just met me, and even after knowing that I have spent my adult life pursuing sustainability and have considerable understanding of climate change, would hasten to tell me that it’s a sham, and does not exist. This is in modern terms a branding exercise on a personal level.