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Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to my blog! Here, I will be taking you through the journey of my Independent Study, “Psychological Attitudes towards Climate Change”.

This independent study will be focused specifically on observing what psychological and neurological factors (including a person’s community, thought process, political beliefs, background, etc) influence climate change action, inaction, and skepticism. After researching climate change, neuroscience, and psychology, conducting interviews, and exploring resources both in person and online, my goal is to build a final product (such as an activity or presentation) that leverages the psychological attitudes I have observed to motivate members of my community to more actively work towards combating climate change!

Check out the Proposal page for a more in depth description of this project, and if you’re interested, please subscribe to my blog by scrolling to the bottom of this page! I’ll be updating this weekly with descriptions of what I’ve learned and the progress I’ve made. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy this journey! 🙂

 Below are posts describing the work I’ve done so far, in chronological order starting from the bottom.
Check out the pages above to learn about my interviews, read the notes I’ve taken, and view my Independent study proposal!

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Final product Update

Hello! Since my last update, I’ve been making more progress on finding a place to showcase my final product. This past week, I met with Ms. Danser about finding a place to incorporate my final product in advisory programming and reached out to Ms. Bessias as well as members of the Sustainability Committee to coordinate with student volunteers! I’m hoping to hold a workshop facilitated by student volunteers across multiple different advisories and grade levels. I’ll keep this blog updated as the details continue to be worked out!

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FINAL PRODUCT

Hi Everyone! I hope the start of the school year has been going well. After corresponding with Ms. Danser about potential advisory activities, Ms. Bessias about implementation, and Ms. Caruso to iron out the details, I’ve devised a final product for my independent study!

The product will be a workshop called “Committing to Climate Action” that applies the psychological attitudes I uncovered in the forms of presentation, discussion, and action in order to spark change! Although I unfortunately haven’t been able to determine a specific time and place to hold the workshop (especially because advisory activities are still largely up in the air), I’m excited to keep looking for opportunities to do so in the future. Please comment below or let me know if you have any suggestions for ways to implement and spread awareness about this workshop!

Here is a description of the workshop. Although I have planned out the specific details (created the presentation, designed questions for the discussion, and created a worksheet for the commitment to action), I’m going to post those after I’m able to fully implement the workshop.:

Committing to Climate Action: a 30 minute workshop

Part 1: Information

Time: 10 minutes

Description: an informative presentation that includes

  • My personal climate story
  • Sharing our own stories
  • Information about climate action

Purpose: to give people the necessary background to embrace sustainability

  • Why sustainability is important
  • What we can do to help
  • How our actions make an impact

Notable details and connection to psychology:

These prompts will be presented in a positive light, rather than a negative one. The presentation will embrace human connection and be primarily ground in stories..

Part 2: Conversation

Time: 10 minutes

Description: a conversation (similar to a class discussion) led by questions raised by a “moderator” and guiding principles set in advance

Purpose: to understand others’ perspectives on climate change and use these as motivation to encourage sustainability

Notable details and connection to psychology:

Rather than aggression, a willingness to be diplomatic and open will be the goal. Climate change will not be discussed in a vacuum, instead, it will be applied to real world images and examples and examined in relation to other concepts, social problems, and priorities.

Additionally, I will observe the behaviors exhibited during this conversation as feedback for future action.

Part 3: Action

Time: 10 minutes

Description: a template will be provided to allow the creation of a formal plan for action. Methods for accountability, including a partner, incentive, and timeframe will be designated.

Purpose: to formally commit to taking action towards sustainability. To, rather than falling into cycles of discouragement and forgetfulness, embrace sustainable change that can be continued and expanded on in the future.

Notable details and connection to psychology:

While other causes often take priority over climate change, this commitment to action forces sustainability to become a priority, even just for a small period of time. Additionally, sustainability can often be overwhelming and abstract, but highlighting a specific action and goal gives the participant direction and power over their actions.

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Growing Greener and Final Product!

Hi everyone! This week, I finished my last interview: a discussion with Dr. Mick Smyer, a psychologist who primarily studies aging. Dr. Smyer provided a great perspective on the intersection between psychology and climate change, as he is the founder of Growing Greener, an organization that leads workshops to encourage the shift from “anxiety to action” on climate change!
He took me through an exercise that involved visualizing your goals for a place that’s important to you. By focusing on individual examples (such as the place I mentioned–in my case, it was the track at DA, which often floods during rainy weather) rather than tackling abstract concepts, I was able to better grasp the effects of the problem and outline steps I can take to solve it!
Next, I asked him about different aspects of his work, including behavioral change techniques, how to engage your audience, and varying attitudes towards climate change. We discussed the value of providing your climate change story to connect with others on the topic and the power of visualization to strengthen habits. However, the most interesting method I learned about was determining a formal commitment to action! Dr. Smyer described how he conducts an activity that involves participants sorting actions into what they already do, what they want to do, and what they’re unwilling to do. Then, the participants must commit to moving an action from the “want to do” to the “already do” category and start building a habit.

An example of the cards Dr. Smyer uses for participants to sort. The sensory association in moving these cards makes this much more powerful!

https://growing-greener.org/product/classic-deck-climate-cards/

Learning about this “commitment to action” was an aha-moment for me because it presented a solution to a question I had been wondering about for a long time: how do we make climate change action into a HABIT? Often times, we tell ourselves we’re going to take shorter showers or turn the lights off, but, much like our New Year’s resolutions :), it stops after a few days…Dr. Smyer’s method of making a formal promise to take an action, partnering with a friend to keep you accountable, and designating a “punishment” (for example, donating to a charity whose cause you don’t support) gave these actions an impressive success rate. He even described stories of communities who had gone from climate apathy to installing solar panels and families who made the transition to electric cars!

File:Solar panels in the desert.jpg
By committing to small steps, let’s hope we can one day take bigger action against climate change like those communities did!

Source: NREL Image Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

Overall, I really enjoyed speaking with Dr. Smyer, and I learned a lot about how to encourage the “worried middle” (people who are worried about climate change but aren’t sure what to do) to take action! Check out his organization, Growing Greener, here, and learn more about my interview with him on my Interviews page!

This week, I also communicated extensively with Ms. Caruso, Ms. Bessias, and Ms. Danser to explore options for a final product. Unfortunately, my options are a bit more limited than I had hoped due to restrictions on in-person learning, but I’m still very excited to explore creating an activity. After getting some inspiration from Dr. Smyer’s climate cards and workshops, I’m hoping to build a final product that includes information about simple steps towards sustainability, a discussion to connect with peers, and a formal commitment to action.
I’ll update you when my product is finished, but for now, I hope you have a great rest of the summer! 🙂

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Week of August 10-16: More interviews and brainstorming!

Hi! This week, I continued brainstorming and began planning a final product and got the opportunity to interview more really amazing people!

First, I spoke to Dr. Anantha Aiyyer, a professor at NC State who studies atmospheric dynamics, specifically focusing on Easterly waves, climate dynamics, hurricane formation, and more! It was so interesting to hear an academic’s perspective on the climate change debate–I learned so much about the rewards and struggles of explaining climate change from a more scientific lens. He mentioned some really interesting facets of climate science that I hadn’t even thought about; for example, the amount of uncertainty surrounding climate modeling and the lack of knowledge from the general public. Many of us can understand the conclusions scientists draw from climate models, but we don’t understand how they’re created or used, causing lots of misinterpretation and confusion. When we discussed how science could be made more transparent, he highlighted the unwillingness we often have to even TALK about the issue, largely because of the lack of “excitement” surrounding the issue (especially compared to technological innovations like AI and big data), the politicization, and the depressing nature of climate change. One observation he pointed out really opened my eyes to the problem: we have dozens of political pundits commenting on every news channel, but barely any public science speakers! All of these insights changed my view on climate change and gave me direction on how to move forward with solutions, and I really enjoyed speaking with Dr. Aiyyer!

climate modeling
An example of a climate model. This is a very simplified, generalized image, and it still looks incredibly complicated! It just goes to show how little we know about these issues and how overwhelming they can be…

Source: Selin, Henrik and Mann, Michael. “Global Warming.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/science/global-warming. Accessed 17 August 2020

I also got a chance to talk to one of my friends at Cary Academy, Sydney, who’s involved in their environmental club: the CA Seeds. They’ve organized events ranging from carpool challenges to spirit points, and I’m so in awe of their dedication to solving this problem! We talked about many different issues, including how online climate events are perceived by classmates, what gets people interested in fighting climate change, and how sustainability could be built into the curriculum. We also discussed how difficult it is to connect with climate activism, especially because it’s not a personal issue–we can’t see how individual people are being impacted. On a more positive note, though, it was really interesting to hear about the diversity of background and thought among the members of the club and how that has helped them bring in more ideas! Check out the CA Seeds on Instagram to learn more about what they’re doing

Please take a look at my interviews page to learn more about the discussions I had with Dr. Aiyyer and Sydney as well as other interviews I’ve conducted!
Also, along with one more interview, I’m hoping to make more tangible progress on my final product next week. I will keep you updated on how everything goes, and thank you so much for reading! 🙂

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Interview with Mayor Rett Newton!

This week, I got a really exciting opportunity to learn more about climate action. I interviewed Mayor Rett Newton, the mayor of Beaufort, North Carolina, and a PhD student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment!

The beautiful waterfront of Beaufort, NC!
Source: State Archives of North Carolina, Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Newton told me a lot about his work in Beaufort: namely, how he’s been able to build a coalition to improve the water quality, infrastructure, and economic growth of the town. I learned a lot about science, presenting information, unifying a community, and developing a plan for change from Mr. Newton. Some of the main things I learned included:
–the level of trauma that repeated hurricanes have caused
–the importance of leadership
–using positive metrics as motivators
This last concept was something I found really interesting. Mr. Newton described an he had idea to create a heat map that shows how improving water quality has benefitted Beaufort’s economy (for example, by showing increasing housing prices) in order to motivate residents to work towards more positive change. This made me realize that many times, we use negative statistics about climate change (i.e. rates of greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of temperature warming)–which are, of course, INCREDIBLY important–to demonstrate why humans should push for action, but to me, it seems like we don’t provide enough information on the opposite front (i.e. how positive action humans have taken have slowed global warming and restored the environment). Although emphasizing the gravity of a situation certainly highlights the importance of action, wouldn’t showcasing tangible positive impacts their actions could make motivate more people to fight climate change?

Infographic: Earth's carbon cycle is off balance
An example of the type of infographic we use often to encourage action. These statistics are very important for people to hear, but what if we supplemented them with more positive thinking as well?
Source: NASA

These are some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about this past week! In addition to interviewing Mayor Newton, I also continued to brainstorm ideas for my final product, and I’m hoping to review some of the reflections I’ve written on my blog to give me more direction. Please comment down below if you have any suggestions, questions, or even simple thoughts you’d like to share!
Additionally, check out my interviews page (scroll to the bottom!) if you’d like to learn more about my interview with Mr. Newton, and read more about Mr. Newton here.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about these ideas 🙂

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Week of July 27-Aug 2

This week, I expanded more on observing the psychology of climate change in my community. I’ve been doing this through a process involving a few steps. First, I learn about an action (i.e. talking to a family member or watching a video with climate activists and skeptics) influenced by psychological attitudes towards climate change. Then, I take notes on this action and draw conclusions relating to the themes it reflects. Finally, I refer back to the notes I took earlier in the summer and match the themes I outlined to their psychological causes. This process has really rounded out this study for me, because it’s so demonstrated how palpable our psychological attitudes truly are and how big of an impact they can have. Overall, this has been an incredibly rewarding process, and I’m excited to build on it by getting started on drafting my final project in the coming week!

I also had some helpful conversations with Ms. Caruso, my content advisor, and Ms. Bessias, our Independent Study coordinator! They encouraged me to reach out to more people in my community and get a more diverse range of perspectives on climate change. We also thought it would be interesting to broaden the reach of my study to social science and policy, possibly by conducting social experiments surrounding climate change or drafting methods to promote participation. I’m looking forward to incorporating this through my final product and potentially expanding on my study in the future as well!

Finally, I reached out to a few more individuals to interview–I’ll keep you updated if it all works out! I loved conducting interviews earlier this summer, and I’m excited to approach them with a new outlook (possibly an increased focus on societal applications) in the next few weeks as well!

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Week of July 20-26: Lots of Videos!

This week, I started to shift my focus towards applying what I’ve learned about climate attitudes to real life. I talked to members of my family about their stances on climate change and noted some of their actions. Then, I connected these observations to the concepts I’ve learned from the various resources I explored. I also took notes on this  Discussion between activists and Skeptics. This gave me a great opportunity to see the behaviors I’ve read about play out in real life, and I gained much more insight into the nuances in thinking that drive both activists and skeptics. I also continued to note my observations about attitudes towards climate change in school, in my community, and in other areas of my life. This coming week, I’m excited to continue applying these examples and begin drafting ideas for solutions as well!

Discussion between climate activists and skeptics. Very interesting to watch–I loved seeing the mutual respect between the two groups and the willingness both to engage with others viewpoints and to politely challenge them as well.
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Stories of Fighting Climate Change!

Hi! This week I went more in depth on resources and started applying them to real life contexts. I started reading parts of Don’t even Think about it: Why our Brains are Wired to ignore Climate Change by George Marshall. It was really interesting to hear about his research, because I found that his claims aligned a lot with themes I’ve been picking up through interviews and other media!

I also began exploring the global climate strike stories page to learn more about what drives people towards climate action as well as gain some really abstract and thoughtful perspectives. I found this really inspiring, especially because it included the voices of so many people around the world. I also got some insight into how our backgrounds, upbringing, and even geography shape how we think about climate change–the diversity of perspectives on this website truly reflects a global community! See the notes page on my blog to learn more about this!

I also reached out to a few more resources for potential interviews. I will let you know if I get any responses in the next post! 🙂

Global Climate Strike stories page
Check this out to learn more about what inspires climate activism!
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Week of July 6-12

Hi! This week, I went really in depth on content. I explored a lot of different websites, media, and online resources, and took notes on how they connected psychology and climate change.

After finishing Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future, I read a report by the American Psychological Association (“Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges”, American Psychological Association, 2009) that outlined many different recommendations for how psychologists can drive climate change action. I also listened to and took notes on a few Hidden Brain podcasts, explored some articles, polls, and books, and watched an interview with a global warming skeptic (see notes page for more information)! I learned a lot about different psychological functions that hamper climate change action, but overall, one thing stuck out to me: our overwhelmingly assertive approach to sustainability! Many times, activists approach climate change deniers with the intention to persuade, rather than to understand, and instead of listening to a person’s experiences, try instead to continue presenting facts and evidence as a mechanism for persuasion. This week, I learned that sometimes, facts aren’t the most effective ways to convince people to take action, and that focusing on broader themes, such as developing personal and emotional connections and tying climate change into other life values can make a bigger impact. I’m hoping to explore this idea more in depth next week as well!

I have also created a new page to show all of my notes from the various resources I’ve been exploring! I’ll be updating it every few weeks with new information 🙂

Thanks for reading, and I can’t wait to update you on the progress I make next week 🙂

Interview with global warming skeptic Anthony Watts. Watts presents a very interesting perspective–he used to believe wholeheartedly that humans are causing climate change, but now believes the data is misconstrued.
It was fascinating to observe how Watts and the interviewer interacted!
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Getting Started: Interviews and Books!

Hi everyone! This week, I made a lot of progress towards gathering some baseline information.

On Tuesday, I spoke to Rebecca Hoeffler, the Communications Coordinator for Duke’s Office of Sustainability! We were able to analyze some of her life experiences in depth in order to understand what psychological factors caused the events she experienced. I also spoke to one of her Green Devil interns, Maddie, who told me about how her experiences with sustainability at Duke differ from those of her hometown. This week was definitely full of interviews – I also got a chance to talk to one of my friends who is involved with sustainability initiatives at a local school in order to observe high school students’ attitudes towards sustainability. She described how the student-led club environment of her school has fostered more unity in fighting climate change!

Green Devils collected donations from staff and students to create a culture of reuse on campus
The Devil’s Thrifthouse, one of the projects of Duke’s Green Devils!

I also got started on exploring my first book: Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future by Jeffrey Kiehl.
It taught me a lot about how the human tendencies to fear change and search for security as well as a culture of individualism in the United States have driven climate inaction.

This past week, I also reached out to many people via email to potentially conduct interviews or get some in person experience. After checking in with my content advisor, Ms. Caruso, I have developed a plan for next week centered around exploring more resources!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you had a great Fourth of July! 🙂