Living in Denial

Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life

Kari Marie Norgaard
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhfvf
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  • Book Info
    Living in Denial
    Book Description:

    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 question, 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 2000-2001.In 2000-2001 the first snowfall came to Bygdaby two months later than usual; ice fishing was impossible; 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 how citizens of industrialized countries are responding to global warming.Norgaard 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 scientists.The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29577-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue: An Unusual Winter
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    During the fall and winter of 2000–2001, unusually warm weather occurred in a rural community in western Norway. November brought severe flooding across the entire region. By early December, it was established that the weather was measurably warmer than usual. The local newspaper reported that October, November, and December were respectively 4.0, 5.0, and 1.5 degrees warmer than the 30-year average. As of January 2001, the winter of 2000 for Norway was recorded as the second warmest in the past 130 years. This fact was highly publicized. Regional and national newspapers carried headlines such as “Warmer, Wetter, and Wilder,”...

  5. Introduction: The Failure to Act, Denial versus Indifference, Apathy, and Ignorance
    (pp. 1-12)

    Environmental and social scientific communities alike have identified the failure of public response to global warming as a significant quandary. Most existing explanations emphasize lack of information (people don’t know enough information; climate science is too complex to follow; or corporate media and climate skeptic campaigns have misled them) or lack of concern (people are just greedy and self-interested or focused on more immediate problems). Such work emphasizes either explicitly or implicitly the notion that information is the limiting factor in public nonresponse to this issue, an approach that is often called the “information deficit model” (see, e.g., Bulkeley 2000)....

  6. 1 Boundaries and Moral Order: An Introduction to Life in Bygdaby
    (pp. 13-32)

    Culture and everyday life organize people ’ s experience of our world (including larger global events such as climate change) in different ways. Some features of culture and everyday life—such as the belief in science, high newspaper readership, and the prevalence of political talk—facilitate thinking about climate change. To this extent, it makes sense to speak of the social organization ofawarenessof global warming. From a human ecological standpoint, however, in which we understand ecological and human systems to be threatened by anthropogenic climate change, it is our currenthuman failuretorespondto global warming to...

  7. 2 “Experiencing” Global Warming: Troubling Events and Public Silence
    (pp. 33-62)

    Ulrich Beck (1992) argues that we now live in a “risk society,” or a society preoccupied with risk. If so, in what sense are people preoccupied? In their daily lives? If people are so preoccupied, why is this concern not visible? If community members consider global warming a significant problem, why does it receive so little serious attention? Are community members simply too busy to do more? In our allegedly rational modern society, we tend to imagine that serious threats or at least potentially serious threats will generate a social response. But this is not the case.

    If chapter 1...

  8. 3 “People Want to Protect Themselves a Little Bit”: The Why of Denial
    (pp. 63-96)

    I am far from the first person to be puzzled by public silence in the face of climate change. On the contrary, environmental sociologists (e.g., Ungar 1992; Kempton, Boster, and Hartley 1996; Dunlap 1998; Rosa 2001; Brechin 2003, 2008), social psychologists (Halford and Sheehan 1991; Stoll-Kleeman, O’Riordan, and Jaeger 2001; Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002; Lorenzoni, Nicholson-Cole, and Whitmarsh 2007; Frantz and Mayer 2009), and public-opinion researchers (Saad 2002; Brewer 2005; Nisbet and Myers 2007) have alike for some time identified such public “apathy” as a significant concern. Possible explanations abound. I begin this chapter by examining existing explanations for why...

  9. 4 The Cultural Tool Kit, Part One: Cultural Norms of Attention, Emotion, and Conversation
    (pp. 97-136)

    I have now described both the invisibility of climate change in Bygdaby as well as what people told me about why they did not want to think about it. But we must remember that the wordignoreis a verb. Ignoring something—especially ignoring a problem that is both important and disturbing—can actually take quite a bit of work. So how did people manage to ignore this disturbing reality in their everyday lives? Questions about how people “create distance” from information on climate change and “hold information at arm’s length” seem absurd if we take the everyday world at...

  10. 5 The Cultural Tool Kit, Part Two: Telling Stories of Mythic Nations
    (pp. 137-176)

    While waiting for the train one afternoon, I spent a few minutes browsing through the postcard rack at the station. This postcard rack was located in one of the areas of town most frequented by tourists (most of whom are international). The rack displayed the images that Bygdaby has offered of itself for sale to others. There were postcards with dramatic images of snow-covered mountains, deep fjords, or Bygdaby from a distance so that one can see the surrounding farms and mountains.

    Two images struck me that day. One postcard showed an old wooden pair of skis placed on the...

  11. 6 Climate Change as Background Noise in the United States
    (pp. 177-206)

    I have examined the lived reality of public silence in one Norwegian town at the beginning of this century, looking at how climate change was present in people’s minds but in a fleeting and unfocused manner, observing differences between front-stage invisibility of the problem and backstage concern about it, and analyzing in some detail how people used culturally available tools to manage emotions and re-create a sense of normalcy and innocence in the face of their unease. To what extent are these reactions replicated around the world? Public silence in the face of climate change is not unique to this...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-230)

    The view from Bygdaby has portrayed global warming as an issue about which people care and have considerable information, but one about which they don’t really want to know and in some sense don’t knowhowto know. We have watched how community members collectively hold information about global warming at arm’s length by participating in cultural norms of attention, emotion, and conversation and by using a series of cultural narratives to deflect disturbing information and normalize a particular version of reality in which “everything is fine.” As such, public nonresponse to global warming isproducedthrough cultural practices of...

  13. Appendix A: Methods
    (pp. 231-242)
  14. Appendix B: List of People in Bygdaby Interviewed and Quoted
    (pp. 243-244)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 245-248)
  16. References
    (pp. 249-264)
  17. Index
    (pp. 265-279)