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FREE READ ó Living in Denial ß Global warming is the most significant environmental issue of our time yet public response in Western nations has been meager Why have so few taken any action In Living in Denial sociologist Kari Norgaard searches for answers to this uestion drawing on interviews and ethnographic data from her study of Bygdaby the fictionHow citizens of industrialized countries are responding to global warmingNorgaard finds that for the highly educated and politically savvy residents of Bygdaby global warming was both common knowledge and unimaginable Norgaard traces this denial through multiple levels from emotions to cultural norms to political economy Her report from Bygdaby supplemented by comparisons throughout the book to the United States tells a larger story behind our paralysis in the face of today's alarming predictions from climate scientis. Norgaard gives interesting observations about how people in a community in Norway manage the distressing emotions that climate change brings and the implications for collectively dealing with climate change The one thing that holds this study back is that the ideas about how our social membership affects our responses to troubling issues aren't really falsifiable if we act it's because our society lets us act and if we don't act it's because our social context makes it impossible to act So it's hard to see how and why people take action when it's hard to do and how groups' collective ways of handling difficult issues change To be fair Norgaard is trying to explain the common inaction and understanding change isn't easy to do in a manageable period of time I think her observations provide good starting points for thinking about how these constraints on how we deal with climate change might vary and what obstacles people who want to push for new climate politics are going to have to figure out how to deal with

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Global warming is the most significant environmental issue of our time yet public response in Western nations has been meager Why have so few taken any action In Living in Denial sociologist Kari Norgaard searches for answers to this uestion drawing on interviews and ethnographic data from her study of Bygdaby the fictional name of an actual rural community in western Norway during the unusually warm winter of 2000 2001In 2000 2001 the first snowfall came to Bygdaby two months later than usual; ice fishing was impossi. This is a book about everythingTechnically yes it's a book about how people deny climate change; but the theoretical lenses in it are useful for just about any issue you might choose There were mind fireworks going off all over the place for me seeing how on one point what the author discusses perfectly describes and explains something I have seen over and over again on climate change actions and how at the same time it applies to other social movements from feminism to LGBT and class issues as well as personal and family level issues like addictions and mental healthNormally I read books on climate change very very carefullyI allocate daily page uotas don't allow myself to read them too close to bed or I won't sleep maybe manage the emotional fallout with a glass of wine andor half a box of kleenex Not this one This one I want to bronze except then I couldn't reread it While Norgaard does touch on the issue of organized climate denial a la the Koch brothers and Exxon it is mostly about the small scale community and individual denials we undertake to manage our emotional responsesAfter all she asks even in the United States a majority of people say they believe the climate is changing and that this is a serious issue And yet even these people are not acting WhyThe disconnect Norgaard argues is that people feel so scared guilty and helpless that they turn to emotion management strategies instead of political or social action These are described in some detail in some cases repetitive detail But it is convincing and certainly fits my own professional and volunteer experiencesMuch of denial she argues is socially mediated and organized we have created societies where talking about climate change along with a host of other issues is considered rude in many contexts unless it's in the form of a joke Coincidentally the Fort McMurray wildfire took place right when I read the book and I saw this play out in my own country in real time here we have the Canadian municipal symbol of climate change burning in a wildfire that is a perfect example of climate change impacts and no one mentioned climate change The one politician who finally did Elizabeth May was promptly excoriated by the Prime Minister and the NDP leader and had to backtrack It also serves to reinforce and protect global privilege The wealthy residents of first world nations through denial can reinforce and protect their our destructive lifestyles while reassuring themselves that they are good people with good intentions who don't mean to kill people Which is pretty much identical to every other form of privilege and the types of denial that protect them Incidentally I found it fascinating and simultaneously crushing how identical the processes of denial Norgaard identifies and describes are to the very techniues psychologists recommend to deal with mental health disorders ie using thought to manage feelings With alcoholism people and families unhealthily decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore to act as if it is not destroying their lives; with climate change and sexism racism classism etc people and societies decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore to manage collective feelings of guilt anger helplessness and fear of loss; with depression and anxiety individuals are actively taught by mental health professionals to decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore in order to facilitate daily functioning That is depressing as shit And not a coincidence I am sureNorgaard offers no hope which is consistent with her research only a vague idea that if we start working on climate change locally people may make these connections and feel empowered enough that they can deal with the guilt powerlessness and fear through constructive means This is a possibility and one I think every environmental and climate campaigneractivist hopes is true but has so far proven not to be Personally I wonder how we could make the public expression of guilt fear and powerlessness socially acceptable enough to have the conversations and experiences that we are so terrified of having and see what comes of thatIf denial on this scale is basically a culture wide reproduction of the same kind of process that allows for example a wife in Austria to remain ignorant of her husband keeping their daughter locked in a secret room in the basement so he can rape her for 18 years or a husband to not notice his wife's abuse of their children and inability to control her spending then one might consider using similar techniues as work in those contexts1 You can't convince everyone Eventually they might be confronted with evidence so overwhelming that they can no longer continue denying reality Say if your husband is arrested and charged with incest and the children who randomly showed up on your doorstep are genetically proven to be the offspring of your husband and daughter And eventually maybe not So instead of trying to convince everyone of the reality of climate change which as Norgaard takes some pains to describe actually backfires because increasing levels of awareness and scientific knowledge on this issue are inversely correlated with levels of concern and willingness to act allow people who are determined not to know better not to know better unless you need them2 You can convince some people There is no way to do this painlessly Break down the fucking denial with a god damned hatchet It is not going to be comfortable There will be grief rage depression mourning and terror; these are unpleasant experiences but not fatal Stop trying to protect people from feeling terrible about a terrible situation3 Regroup and talk to the people who are willing to listen and talk back about what can be done What Norgaard proposes is the climate euivalent of the family of an alcoholic trying to deal with the alcoholism by discussing the financial issues with a debt management specialist and hoping that eventually this translates into a willingness to confront the drinking I've never seen this work What happens in my experience is that denial works for years or decades and everything ticks along swimmingly with disaster under the surface until someone goes under all at once and almost drowns in it and then learns to swim and then recovers Feeling terrible is inevitable and in some cases never goes awaySo my personal takeaway is thisBe as socially inappropriate about climate change as you can handleFeel like shit about it Be as angry guilty scared and powerless as you really are when you let yourself think about it Don't cover it up when you talk to people Don't make it a joke Bring it up when you know you're not supposed to Make people uncomfortable Be uncomfortable When you find people who are willing to go there with you talk to them get together make plans

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Living in DenialBle; and the ski industry had to invest substantially in artificial snow making Stories in local and national newspapers linked the warm winter explicitly to global warming Yet residents did not write letters to the editor pressure politicians or cut down on use of fossil fuels Norgaard attributes this lack of response to the phenomenon of socially organized denial by which information about climate science is known in the abstract but disconnected from political social and private life and sees this as emblematic of. Through her case study of a town in Norway Norgaard provides specific details about what that inaction looks like and how people think in relation to that inaction—so the book moves between descriptions of sociological ideas and the uotes she collected and events she observed in Norway Norway was selected because it is far north and thus the effects of global warming are visible Norwegians are among the most educated in the world so most Norwegians know about global warming even if they do not do much about it Norway is also ideal because the exploitation of fossil fuels particularly oil is the basis upon which Norway's wealthhigh standard of living has been and continues to be built So even if Norwegians want to do something about global warming they clearly see that their standard of living is based upon causing global warming—uite a conundrum These three aspects of Norway made it a well selected case site for the projectIn terms of theory she uses Ann Swidler's toolkit model of the role of culture in action eg as described in Swidler's book Talk of Love and in a famous journal article published in 1986 called Culture in action Symbols and strategies supplemented by Zerubavel's ideas related to thought communities eg in his book Social Mindscapes and ideas about power eg Antonio Gramsci's idea of hegemony I appreciated her explicit alliance with Swidler's influential theory of action and how she complemented Swidler's theory with an understanding of Zerubavel's ideas I also appreciated her eually explicit decision to use hegemony and related ideas about power to understand social order Norgaard doesn't give much justification for why these theories are the best ones to use in this situation other than to imply that the theories fit the data but we always see that in sociological studies I would have appreciated of an explicit set of reasons for why we might want to think in terms of these particular theories But I am sympathetic to the approach particularly the focus on power in her theory of order It is also useful to see a theory that uses SwidlerZerubavel and how this connects up to theories of hegemony—to my knowledge no other environmental sociological book makes such a clear link between SwidlerZerubavel's ideas and theories of how power affects culture and action