December 21st is the darkest day of the northern hemisphere, and the height of the summer sun in the south.
Drawing our gaze away for a moment from the pandemic, while recognizing that it could easily have been sparked by human encroachment on animal habitat, let's bow our heads for the millions of acres of forest worldwide that have been destroyed in 2020. Then, take a very deep breath, and thank the forests for every molecule of oxygen entering our lungs.
Humans have caused this unimaginable destruction, and only humans can turn it around and revive the living skin of our planet. Right now, there are a few powerful people who fan the flames, a growing number of adults and children who are eager to mend the damage, and many who haven't thought about it much, or who think the choice is between jobs now and some distant, future problem, or who think they have no power to make a difference. Just enough of the last triple-group are the ones that will ultimately create the tipping point, provided the eager "growing number" succeeds in capturing their imagination.
What makes people change their minds?
We've all heard that everyone nowadays is entrenched in their opinions. But it isn't that simple! In fact, we tend to rationalize the things we feel stuck with. So when the rules change on a social issue - then so does the opinion of the majority. This can work both ways: it might be something useful or something harmful that people come to accept; then it's only when they hear there are plenty of people who don't agree, that they'll move to opposing the rule. So, it's up to those of us who care passionately about our forests and our planet and the future of all living creatures, to make sure we're vocal, visible and influential!
It takes only one in four people to create a successful social movement.
"If they’re just below a tipping point, their efforts may fail. But, remarkably, just by adding one more person, and getting above the 25% tipping point, their efforts can have rapid success in changing the entire population’s opinion."
Do facts change people's minds?
Sadly, if self-identity and group acceptance come into play, then no - facts are not enough to change most people's minds. For example, NYU psychology professor Jay Van Bavel proposes that the physical consequence of a belief matters less to our daily lives than its social consequences. If we want to persuade people who swim in "climate-change-denial" waters, then we have to imagine the world from their social perspective. If they are Christian, for example, a discussion round Noah's Ark might be a good idea. What is the story telling us? Or if they come from a farming family, then what kind of care for animals and the land might make their lives less harsh and more satisfying - and who prevents them from being able to do that? If their livelihood depends on fossil fuels - how would it be if they really could work in a cleaner, safer industry with better prospects for their children? A questioning conversation without implied threat or condescension has a better chance of persuasion. As Prof. van Bavel points out, "reducing worldview or self-esteem threats by afﬁrming an individual can open their mind to otherwise threatening information."
Stories and parables, art and movies can appeal unthreateningly to the emotions and create community, in a way that facts do not. So think... how will you open a new conversation in 2021?
-- Sophie Grillet Dec 2020