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Why the Climate Change Message Isn't Working


Why the Climate Change Message Isn't Working

Charles Eisenstein

In the following excerpt from Climate—A New Story, Charles Eisenstein looks at debates about global warming and proposes a narrative shift for the climate movement. Embracing love of nature, he writes, moves people beyond denial and passivity to the action necessary to protect life on our planet.


I recently read a scary report about water for California. Because of the fires and the drought, that state may be facing another really awful nightmare. People might be moving away now because of the h,igh rents------BUT, what if the water had been badly polluted by the fires?
Lots of the people had plastic water pipes and the fires, of course, melted these. When one family returned as their house hadn’t burned-----the smell of the water coming out of their faucet was overpowering. They asked for a water check and OMG benzene and other awful things were now in their water system, Even though their house was saved, they stll had to rent another place for 11 months because the water was carcinogenic now and the smell was revolting.
Now, if the drought and the fires keep up, will CA become the 1st waterless state? If so many water pipes are ruined in CA, what is emptying into the oceans? What is watering the farms and the farm animals? What about medications that are made here—do they have extra carcinogens added? What can people buy from CA that won’t injure their heath?
WATER is LIFE—but the wrong water will end up being DEATH to any state which has water that kills. MAYBE knowing this will make more people in oil and gas areas question why there’s so much illness in kids?
Apparently in fire areas, there’s another scary parasite. It’s called Cryptosporidium and lies in the earth, BUT comes alive in fire areas. This scary pathogen loves to kill AIDS victims, and chemo patients and those with infections of other types-----sadly, if the fires and poisoned food and water don’t get you, the pathogen spores will finish you off.
People should read that King Midas story again: Wow all that gold, and yet the poor king could eat and drink —Nothing! . Welcome to the IMMEDIATELY scary climate change America! :


Notes on “Why the Climate Change Message Isn’t Working”

basic idea: Scientistic/rational/economic climate change arguments won’t change people’s minds; instead appeal to their hearts and feelings - encourage the positive views of nature as beautiful they already have; and appeal to them on a local level - focus on protecting what is beautiful in their immediate area. Regardless of political view, this beauty/local revaluation of nature can make an end run around deadlocked political arguments over climate change, and get even right wing people to support protecting nature locally. And if these local actions spread, they would create locally and foster nationally ecological consciousness and climate change protection.

Some thoughts:

I’m open to anything that works - like the example of local efforts leading right wing people to act to support nature…

…though, if they keep voting for right wing politicians, won’t those political forces keep destroying the planet unless the locals somehow generalize, become political, and, as political creatures, make demands on their representatives?

And valuing ‘the local’ - presumably that would mean local culture too…hunting connected to gun freedom…

Dunno if climate change arguments are as purely scientific as you say - look at coral reef literature, which features pics of its beauty and awesome teeming diversity, how it makes up a whole world in itself.

To some extent the views you talk about exist on the right - ‘Sierra Club Republicans.’ Prob. is, as above, they value nature, and will 'act locally, donating to preserving parks…but still vote for Republicans eager to sell off protected lands for development and deregulate pollution control etc…

…but I guess the idea is, ‘Yea, but if the consciousness spreads enough, it will start to impact voters’ political thinking and demands on their politicians?

And maybe the ‘sacredness of nature’ idea could make headway with a religious-identified right wing that ridicules ‘tree huggers’…

Shouldn’t be an either/or thing…the characterization of scientific thinking seems a bit of a straw man to me…


Interesting position, well-stated.


There it is.
Do you by chance have a link to the report you mentioned?


Maybe we think ahead enough to want to pass something to the next generation – leave whatever money we save, the house, and some pictures to our immediate friends and families. But 100 years seems a long time to us. And anything happening outside our communities seems distant and in the end much less important. If someday ecological tragedy extincts the human race I’m sure many of us will go down bravely, selflessly, but hopelessly because it will be too late. It isn’t too late now, but that same bravery and selflessness are in short supply when it could actually do some good. We can’t seem to see beyond our own back yards.


It isn’t working because everyone’s assumption about our political model is completely out to lunch.
This gets to the heart of the oldest question in politics: how does radical change occur? And that answer is different in different systems, but in ours, theoretically, it presumes a responsive political system that accords itself to the will of the people AND embraces an ethos of national responsibility.

Neither of these things are true. So then you have the usual parade of do-gooders imploring people to change their voting behavior. And sometimes they do. Yet, policy never changes. And instead of asking “why?”, they merely repeat the only mantra they’re comfortable with: well, we’re not electing enough x,y or z.

The real answer as to why the message isn’t working is that there is no vehicle for the change to occur. It doesn’t exist. Politically, Americans are so risk averse that none of us are willing to put our necks out for these things. I mean, Democrats, for example, can’t even punish their own party for a single two year cycle! Because they’re so afraid of risking the rise of that “enemy party”. Republicans do the same thing. Everyone’s waiting for someone else to swoop in and rescue them.

And unlike the movies, whenever you’re reduced to depending on the cavalry to show up on time, they almost never do. Unless they’re there to turn their guns on you.

If you support capitalism, you have sealed your fate. If politics is merely voting, you have sealed your fate. If you can’t even realize when your political system is beyond a mere correction or two, you have sealed your fate.

This is a done deal. We’re toast. And it’s all because every voice we listen to tells us to wait our turn and be patient. To be civil. To be nice to our masters. To plead and educate. That under no circumstances can any severe disruption to the system take place, because that would be bad.

For lack of revolution and revolutionaries, humanity is going to be extinct.


PVC a common plastic when burned in incomplete combustion releases dioxin. Dioxin is an animal and human killer. PVC is a product used for house siding and much of the plastics found in houses as furniture and for other uses.

When your neighborhood burns it also becomes a toxic dump covered with very strong cancer causing chemicals that will get into the water. Wood siding painted is more work but much safer.


California must get on the desalination bandwagon, just like Israel is doing. The aquifers won’t last very long the way California allocates water rights to agriculture.


Excellent article. There are two reasons why the CO2 narrative doesn’t work. The most obvious one is Physics illiteracy - most people don’t understand how heat-trapping by CO2 works. The other reason is that humans didn’t evolve to react to distant events, however horrible those events could be. The longest horizons humans care about is from 10 to 30 years (the maturity of bonds.)
To illustrate how true the statement “people don’t care about atmospheric warming”, consider what happens when the Catholic Church (or any other church) promises “eternal torment” if you commit certain sins. This doesn’t keep people who believe in eternal torment from committing those sins. The reason is that punishment will happen in a future too distant to matter (abut 30 years on average, or about the maturity of a long-term bond.)
Zwante Arrhenius won the Nobel Prize for developing the mathematical tools to understand global warming and issues a warning about what could happen. That was over 120 years ago. Here is what his math tells us, as valid today as it was 120 years ago:
“if you augment CO2 concentrations geometrically, the temperature increases linearly.”
In everyday language, “If you increase CO2 by four, the temperature rises by two.”
This powerful simple statement encodes the death sentence of the human species. If you realize what this means, you should be horrified. This is the kind of statement most Americans (and other societies that don’t respect science beyond bombastic “we are better” statements) laugh at.


Drone, nice thinking. I like the simile about the cavalry not showing up. In the case of global warming by CO2, the cavalry won’t show up because they will never receive the call, the warming happens with a significant delay relative to its cause, the concentration of CO2. People can’t accept what they can’t feel, and by the time they feel it, well, it will be too late.


Interesting, I did not hear about this. Read https://cen.acs.org/environment/water/California-wildfires-caused-unexpected-benzene/96/i26 which was about the Santa Rosa fire earlier in 2018 but same issue. I didn’t even know plastic was being used for supply lines. Apparently it isn’t just a cost issue (I’m sure it’s cheaper than the materials it replaced), but it is less likely to crack and burst after an earthquake.


I’ve appreciated Eisenstien’s work for years.

And surely, he is right that the heart needs to be at the center of our lives, for without it there, the mind runs amok and rapidly destroys everything.

But…there’s still a big problem with his proposed narrative.

It is simply this: Eisenstein still sees humans as the sole, or at least the most powerful, drivers of change. But humans seeing themselves as the sole drivers of everything here is how we got to behaving as we have!

What if Mother Earth is not only sentient, but far, far more intelligent than our species has been lately willing to perceive or even to imagine?

What if it is She Who is driving this whole wild evolutionary ride, including the rampant destructiveness of our species’ long adolescence?

What if She actually Knows what She is doing?

What if She is aiming, inexorably, even through this intense crisis, at something that we do not readily see? What if She is driving at something we cannot see as long as we are encapsulated and cocooned within our egocentric perceptions?

What if She’s actually offering us a way through this tight evolutionary bottleneck—but the way involves giving up this pervasive perception of ourselves as the masters of this universe? What if that way is not about us “finding the solutions”, but rather, humbling ourselves in the arms of the Mother and letting Her show us the way through?

No, Mr. Eisenstein, I don’t believe any “new” narratives that fail to de-center the human ego and inspire us to go utterly beyond what we have so far been and known will do anything to stay the Sixth Mass Extinction.

I know you can’t get paid money for saying things like that, because they strike at the heart of the whole God Money system. That doesn’t mean they don’t call for you to speak them anyway, Mr. Gift Economy! :slight_smile:


HI chap drum: I keep things in my journal and often write the cource----but I didn’t list the source…so I finally tried google and in the search " House survives fire—water is tainted." and then I finally found the original story. You 'll know it’s the right story because it tells about the house and the family being SOOOO thankful it survived… but then they turned on the water-------the water poisoning ruined it all… so that was from Jan 5th 2019 on NBC News… and you’ll also know it was the correct story with the description of the cryptosporidium ------


HI dara, i just found the story for someone else—it’s from Jan 5th and NBC news…the story tells how the couple’s house survived, but when they turned on the water inside the house —the smell is awful as the plastic water pipes have melted----they could not live there and had to rent for 11 months instead. There’s more but that’s the source and date.


HI Monckton: There were a lot of problems with that idea as the power sucking the water in to the plant had a tendency to suck in ocean life with it—killing creatures and creating more problems—you know like the oil spills and nuclear plant that still hasn’t been rectified—lots of worries. I don’t think many people think that desalination is all that workalike now.


For starters "most people" learn about the green-house effect in grade-school. We don’t need mathematical tools or physics to understand global warming. Just imagine your temperature increasing by 2 or 3 degrees, so it is 101º F. How would you feel?? Well it is much the same for the Earth and the human environment. Drop 5 degrees and we are back in a deep-freeze Ice-age, increase 5 degrees and we are toast.

There was a time when “not in my back yard” was a choice for the middle and upper classes. That day is gone. In time, whole States will burn and we are not talking 30 or 50 years, if the climate in the last few years is anything to go by. It is time the NIMBYs were frightened, very frightened!


I certainly agree that the narcissistic viewpoint of modern human civilizations cannot redeem itself as long as it maintains this hubristic position.

New ideas are needed. Perhaps I have misunderstood, but Mr Eisenstein’s suggestion looks more like disconnecting from the big picture to focus on important, but isolated, concerns. If will help move more people toward taking the steps to counter the negative effects of human caused destruction, good.

But definitely, this is not enough. There is ever tightening, totalitarian control backed by ever powerful technology. Unaccountable, mega corporations continue to augment these undemocratic technologies, regardless of harm caused. It’s hard to think that this bodes well for any of us. Meanwhile, students are taught not to think and are given no lessons in how to ensure their future includes a life worth living or even life itself.

So, by all means, bring on the new ideas; many, many new ideas. Let the flowering begin.


It’s true, that if people love something they will take offense to its destruction, but the course of action we should take isn’t necessarily as described here. No terrorist organization has ever poisoned a whole city before, but despite the protests, 200,000 children in Fint Michigan were poisoned after it was known the danger existed, and today the water is not as clean in Flint as it was beforehand. last year North Dakotas oil production hit 1.16 million barrels per day in March 2018, thanks to DAPL pipeline being in operation, despite the impassioned protests. I equate protests to asking them to stop and nothing more.


Thinking about Eisenstein’s approach again, I think what he’s trying to do is find a broader - he would say ‘spiritual’ - way of thinking about the beauty of the earth that, while everyone would benefit from it, is crucial if right wing thinking is to be overcome.

I say ‘right wing thinking,’ not just ‘right wing climate change denial,’ because climate change denial is one defining feature of right wing identity. As the linked article below points out, among industrialized countries, the U.S. is an outlier in climate change denial; and one important reason for this is its broadly right wing views.

Besides the article, see the first two ‘readers’ picks’ responses to the article, the first of which notes that the U.S. is far to the right of most industrialized countries not only on climate change, but on a host of social issues; and the second of which notes that - rather uniquely in the U.S. - resistance to climate change is partly the result of massive spending and disinformation campaigns by the coal and other dirty industries.

Again, willing to make Eisenstein’s ideas a part of a greater approach to climate change, but the political right is a strong part of U.S. culture - and it may be that climate change denial is too tightly imbricated within a complex of angry, hostile, selfish, distrustful, anxious right wing attitudes - constantly reinforced by mainstream commercial media, industry propaganda, and the relative absence of progressive organizations - for ‘beauty’ and ‘valuing the local’ to cause a change of outlook or action.