Lessons from the psychology behind climate change resistance (and how to use it to get engagement for your ideas)


Is the way you are presenting change to your people “Inspiring Inertia” or “Inspiring Action”

The future of work is nothing like the past Photo by  Kyle Glenn  on  Unsplash

The future of work is nothing like the past Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

PLEASE NOTE: This article is NOT about climate, whether it is changing, and if so, if it is man-made, or anything else to do with the science. This article is about an analysis of the psychology BEHIND the taking up of or resistance to the idea, and how to use the learnings from this to apply to gaining engagement and support, and avoiding resistance for, your ideas.

The analysis behind this article comes from a lecture given by psychologist and economist Per Espen Stokes in New York in 2017. If you want to watch the lecture, you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5h6ynoq8uM

In his lecture, Per describes 5 reasons why there is resistance to the idea of climate change. This is not resistance in the scientific or political community. This is resistance in the public domain, where you would think that an upswell of pressure by those who are supposedly going to be affected by the issue would be so great that the scientific and political community could not resist the flood of public opinion. And yet, this upswell, that at some point looked like it might turn into a flood, has become more like soggy socks – an “inconvenient truth” that you wish you had never heard of and would go away.

The 5 drivers of resistance to the idea of climate change Per describes (and calls the “5 Ds”) are:

·        Distance: The impact of the action seems far away in space and time (Arctic ice, centuries in the future, etc.). It’s not here and now like if your kids are doing their homework or how many likes your Instagram pics got.

·        Doom: It’s not a pleasant topic. After the first fright and reaction (about 30 years ago), the framing of the topic as a “disaster coming” has lead to “apocalypse fatigue”.

·        Dissonance: This is the inner discomfort that happens from knowing that, if this IS true, then I’M contributing to it – driving, flying, eating beef, etc. Our brain then starts to justify the dissonance – “Well, Brian drives a bigger car than I do, and drives it to work every day and I catch the train, so I’m not that bad”.

·        Denial: This is an unusual state of simultaneously both “knowing” and “not knowing” something. We are aware of something troubling, but live as if we are unaware, reinforced by those in our network and community who also are aware and live as if they are not aware, making us all feel better.

·        iDentity: We believe the things that those we identify with believe. People who vote for conservative political parties (who believe in fossil fuels, big cars and small government) and are then told to solve climate issues we will need to drive smaller, electric cars, invest in renewables and have more government regulation are likely to trust the science less than what those they identify with are saying.

Now let’s look at how this applies to what may be happening to ideas you are trying to introduce in your workplace.

Inertia or action.png

Now let’s look at how this applies to what may be happening to ideas you are trying to introduce in your workplace.

Change is commonly resisted. When you are trying to get engagement and support, and inspire action towards change, these same 5Ds often appear. For example, if there is to be a restructure, or a major change in direction of the business in terms of its market, products or services, or perhaps a takeover by a larger organisation, the way we are communicating with our people about it may be causing the exact opposite of the response we are looking for:

·        Distance: The program we are launching may take years to complete. The completion, outcome and benefits of the restructure, change in direction or merger may be so far away that people stay focused on what they can control – the issues with production, revenue and customers right in front of them.

·        Doom: Whenever change is introduced and implemented, it is often framed in the negative consequences of doing things the same way. After a while, people get numb from all the “bad news”, and just keep doing what they were doing anyway.

·        Dissonance: “If this major change IS actually necessary”, goes Dissonance thinking, “then I contributed to it. I did not do my job well enough or contribute enough to avoiding the circumstances that lead to this change being necessary”. This can lead to guilt and disengagement from the change process.

·        Denial: People know change is necessary, yet still resist it. And everyone around them resisting it and continuing with “business as usual” reinforces the attitude that it may not actually be necessary.

·        iDentity: The influencers in our organisations whose opinions we follow are often disengaged from the change. If we want to stay in that clique, then we need to be disengaged as well.

These 5 supporters of resistance to change are a strong force to have to deal with, as we can see with their impact on the concept of climate change. I am sure you can see examples of how they are affecting the ability to “Inspire Action” at your workplace.

Fortunately, Per also shares responses to these resistors. I will share these, and show how they can be used to gain engagement, support and “Inspire Action” in my next article.


Is the way you are presenting change “Inspiring Inertia” or “Inspiring Action”? Here’s 3 ways I can help you with that:

  1.      Work with me – Get in touch here, call 1300 684 669 or email davidw@davidwayne.com.au to discuss options for coaching, workshops or training programs or

  2.      Download a free copy of the “Inspire to Action” whitepaper

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David Wayne