To Save the Environment, Move Beyond Finger Pointing, Says Andrew RevkinMarch 20, 2014 By Schuyler Null
“The idea that there’s an information deficit – that if you fill it, it’ll change the world – is fantasy,” says Andrew Revkin in an interview at the Wilson Center.
“I’ve been writing about issues like global warming since the 1980s, which makes me one of the greybeards…and I had this expectation, and it’s one that many scientists have, that if you just put out the information effectively, people will respond and change their behavior,” the author of The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog and fellow at Pace University says.
“And then I stumbled into all this social and behavioral science, looking at the same thing, and here’s this whole body of science and scientists who say, ‘no, people don’t absorb information, they have filters…they absorb it or reject it based on predispositions.’”“We’re in a race between self-awareness and our own potency.”
That realization moved him away from full-time journalism and towards “understanding the human brain and how societies and individuals absorb knowledge.”
The 20th century model of conveying environmental messages – a “woe is me, shame on you” approach – doesn’t work well in convincing new people, he says. Instead, Revkin suggests environmental communicators should work on leading people to knowledge and facilitating access so people can make up their own minds and find issues and people that resonate themselves.
The internet can help in that regard. “I love what I see with the ability of the internet and other social media tools to facilitate more awareness, more empathy,” Revkin says. “My 15-year-old son lives on Reddit…and he’s seeing stuff about South Sudan that when I was his age, I never would have been exposed to.”
“If material is developed in a way that’s interesting and engaging, using visualizations for data and not just numbers…you can sort of spill awareness out,” he says. “Sharing and shaping of knowledge has never been easier.”
Given that when it comes to humanity’s environmental impact, “we’re in a race between self-awareness and our own potency,” he says, “there are some pretty bright signs for progress ahead.”
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.