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There are a number of psychological barriers preventing people from acting to prevent climate change. Psychology professor Robert Gifford at the University of Victoria calls these “dragons of inaction“. You can find out more about his work at his Environmental, Social and Personality Lab.

This article consists of edited excerpts from the Denial101x course I’m following – Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.

Dragons of Inaction

Robert Gifford's Dragons of Inaction, Below2C

The human brain is arguably the most complicated machine on Earth. It’s capable of amazing feats of creativity, emotion and insight. Nevertheless, our brain hasn’t evolved much in tens of thousands of years. We’re much the same as our early ancestors struggling to survive in Africa 50,000 or more years ago. Our chief concerns then were immediate dangers that affected our own, small group. However, climate change is unlike any threat humanity has ever encountered. It involves gradual changes across the whole planet over decades rather than immediate danger from predators.

People often think of climate change as affecting other people in far away parts of the world, or not affecting people at all. Thinking about what might happen to some other group in a distant part of the world, decades into the future, just doesn’t come naturally to us. Of course, the reality is climate change is affecting all parts of the world right now. So why are we taking so long to act on climate?

Six Dragons of Inaction

1. The Grass is Greener on Our Side

When events seem far away, people tend to discount them. One study of 18 countries found that people thought that environmental conditions were worse in other countries. Of course, people in those other countries also thought the same things about different countries. When it comes to climate risks, the grass is greener on our side.

2. Overly Optimistic About Climate Change

People tend to be overly optimistic about climate change. One study found that people systematically underestimate the risk they face from environmental hazards. “Nah, climate change won’t happen to me!” is the prevailing attitude.

3. Can’t Make a Difference

Pessimism about our own ability to make a difference to climate change leads to inaction. Avoiding the worst impacts of global warming requires big changes to how our society produces energy. In the face of such a global, complicated problem, many people believe they personally can’t make a difference. This feeling of helplessness prevents people from making changes to their behaviour that will help avoid climate change.

4. Influence of People Around Us

The behaviour of people around you is an extremely powerful motivating force, more powerful than most people realise. If you look around and see that your friends and family aren’t doing their part, then you’re more likely to not bother either. “Why should I change if they won’t?”

5. I’ve Done my Part

Another dragon of inaction is when people do act for the environment – for instance, change their light bulbs or recycle – but then they think “well, I’ve done my bit.” Unfortunately, these token actions are often relatively easy but don’t have much impact compared to more difficult, long-term behaviour changes.

6. Consensus Gap

The sixth dragon of inaction is particularly significant and damaging. In fact, it’s two dragons combined – political ideology and information deficit. In recent years, a number of studies have identified that perception of scientific agreement is a key gateway belief.

Robert Gifford's Dragons of Inaction, Below2C

When people realise there’s strong agreement among climate scientists that humans are causing global warming, this influences a range of other climate beliefs, including acceptance of climate change and support for climate action. But if you ask the public to estimate how many climate scientists agree about human-caused global warming, they say around 50 to 60%. The public still thinks there’s a 50:50 debate among climate scientists.

In contrast, 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. So there’s a gaping chasm between public perception and the 97% reality. This is the “consensus gap”. Because perceived consensus has such a big influence on other climate attitudes, the consensus gap is an important dragon of inaction.

This graph shows the results of a survey of a representative sample of Americans. Participants were asked to estimate how many climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. They were also asked about their support for free, unregulated markets, which is a measure of political ideology.

Robert Gifford's Dragons of Inaction, Below2C

The graph shows that perception of consensus decreases as you move to the right, which equates to more conservative people with higher support for free markets. In other words, political ideology plays a big part in increasing the consensus gap. This result has been found in many studies, which find that political beliefs are one of the biggest influences on our attitudes to climate change.

For example, a 2013 survey found that only 24% of Republican voters in the United States believe that global warming is being caused by humans. Compare this to 66% of Democratic voters. Political ideology has a big influence on what Americans think about climate science. So there appears to be no political motivation for a liberal to think that there’s a low consensus among climate change scientists.

In the case of non-conservatives, other factors cause the consensus gap – deficit of information, misconceptions or confusion arising from misinformation.

One would think that facts should be considered facts. Unfortunately, people use motivated reasoning when choosing which facts they will accept, and which they will deny.

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  1. Very interesting, nothing surprising about any of the 6 dragons, they all are very perceivable and easy to conclude on ones own. Of course I’m biased on this cuz this area of concern has become my central focus in regards to climate change, the people and how they think that is. I relate personally to many of the dragons, but then again I got a back up “action” that excuses it all; that is the way i live. That has been my greatest form of activism ever, and I was a paid activist for 10 years back in the 90’s. Since, I concluded that the “real” thing a person can do and do well is be poor. Yeah, poverty has been my greatest form of action, go figure. Yeah see it works like this, the less money you make the less you spend and it’s making and spending that created all this crap in the first place. So if your tired of fighting congress but still wanna do something about climate change…go broke. Too simple? No, it’s just that when you get past all the hoop-la going out there and see the circles spinning endlessly, it becomes clear that the last and most common sense thing you can do is exit the rat race by having little money. Simple yes, but in no way easy and if you are looking for easy, it ain’t gonna happen.

    • Danny – that’s quite a draconian measure, “exit the rat race” that is. I don’t think you’ll get a lot of people jumping on that bandwagon. But I guess your point is that the mass consumerism Western lifestyle is killing the planet. And yet, hundreds of millions are aspiring to that very level of so-called progress.

      As for me, I’m using my resources as a climate activist in many different ways. I can only hope that millions of others like you and I will continue this never-ending fight to bring climate justice to our planet.

      Thank you for your comments and support.

  2. Yes Rolly, I’m a sceptic alright. I don’t know whether this fact that we have no effect on global climate is coming to you as good news or bad. Albeit reading further as to what I’ve said on the internet may come as one hell of a shock for you, I hope that , even at your age, (and mine) that you may be able to adapt, modify, overcome. Wishing you all the best, and happy reading.

    • Whether you are a sceptic or a believer in AGW is not important. Climate change is happening. In my opinion the impact of humans on the environment is undeniable. And the emission of millions of tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere every day is a contributing factor to our warming planet.

  3. Whoops , apologies Rolly President…you’re Canadian.? You suffer the same indignities we do by being called Aussies.

  4. Mack – you seem like a reasonable guy. So why do you engage with all these conspiracy theorists about AGW being a communist infiltration? This is like blaming the current heat wave in India or the extensive flooding in Texas on gays.


  5. Boomer,
    It would be easier to not believe in conspiracy theories if the conspirators refrained from conspiracy type material. Actually the fact that they publish sometimes removes them from the conspiracy list, but when someone publishes BS and then either has no provenance or hides his data or reasoning, they jump right back on the list.
    Eg Cook et al who you quote above with this 97% consensus theory. Did you actually read the paper and analyse his data yourself? I did and as a consequence I have to say the guy is either stupid or has an agenda ie a conspirator.

    Did you ever even think about the basic AGS hypothesis. It fails on two counts which means that in normal times real scientists would throw it out!

    I can only suggest you that you start researching the origins of your “facts” before you form any beliefs such as you are pushing on your site.

    It is possible that you may have difficulty in publishing this comment. If so don’t worry, I may publish it for you on my site



    • Roger – Thank you for your comments. By the way, I have no problems approving comments which are contrary to my beliefs on my site. And feel free to publish my comments on your site. These are all part of the dialogue we must have on climate change. But beware that as we get deeper and deeper into catastrophic climate change, dialogue will become rather meaningless. Survival will become the essential driving force.

      You suggest that I take the time to verify my facts before publishing them. Well in theory that would be nice. But as the deniers say, I’m not a scientist. And my time is precious. Hence I choose to believe what 97% of the world’s climate scientists have proven. The other 3% is likely financed by the fossil fuel lobby. Therefore I choose to ignore that faction.

      My work is to raise awareness and disseminate scientific information to those who are open-minded and realistic. I’m fighting for social justice and climate justice.


  6. Rolly,
    You will notice that, at no point in conversing with Roger the Surf on his site, did I ever agree with his conspiracy theory about AGW being a communist infiltration. As you see I’m only interested in the science and stay away from politics and religion as much as possible. Actually I’m more interested in the truth about the science…and would like to know whether it’s real,or just junk science. ..and in the “greenhouse” theory, everything was screaming to me that this was just junk.
    I went to Rog’s site because I’d come across a person who had delved into the core of the cause of the AGW belief…ie the “education” of our children with this fear-mongering piece of crap science.
    It’s as if the older generation derives some perverse pleasure in scaring the younger generation with some doom scenario. Back in our day it was the bomb, Rolly. …now that was real.

  7. Mack. The bomb is real as you say. The threat of nucluear annihilation still exists with a lot of “loose-canon” nations out there who can get their hands on nuclear weapons. I see the climate threat as a real, not perceived, but very real threat. Does one need to get lung cancer as proof that cigarette smoking may cause cancer? Do we need to wait until we have totally wasted our planet for future habitation before we realize that’s it’s too late.

    I strongly encourage you to spend more time in looking at the science. You owe it to yourself and to your offsprings.

  8. I’ve been missing for a while…I’m sorry, but a trip to Iceland, computer access problems (ongoing) and just a very busy lifestyle is taking up my time.

    I have been trying to complete the Denial 101 course but access can only be on my tablet for some reason, and currently I haven’t got access on that….so have only got half way through week 5 with time running out for completion. A very interesting course that many deniers here might have found informative if they had taken the time to look when Rolly posted the link. The course is now closed to new students.

    In Denial 101, the reasons for conflicting (or what appears to be conflicting) evidence is clearly explained and people would have learned why ice might thicken in some places and other places be colder during a warming period.

    One of the biggest things I have learned, is that under current conditions, warming will reach somewhere between 2C and 4.5C increase in temperatures over the next 50 years, all dependent on how much carbon we continue to spew out into the atmosphere from our human-base emissions. The scientists can’t pin it down to an exact figure as the variables (such as how cloud cover might mitigate or increase heating in the troposphere), are many.
    The fact is that species are disappearing at a rapid rate because the speed of heating is faster than any of the scientific evidence for the 5 previous extinctions in earth’s history, would suggest.

    There will always be deniers. They will die with the rest of us, if the heating trend doesn’t subside. Don’t suggest the sun activity (that is on a cooling cycle), don’t suggest volcanic activity (that doesn’t cover the amount of carbon dioxide spewed out by concrete production world-wide), don’t suggest normal planetary wobbles…. it doesn’t explain the current heat.

    I don’t apologise for my views. I have seen animal die-offs, terrible forest fires, unexplained droughts, floods and all sorts of weird stuff on my travels. You will never convince me that global warming doesn’t exist. I’m scared! Not for me – my life will be over in 20-30 years. But in 20-30 years, it will be too late to stop this runaway train. Extinction is real, and humans are headed for it….we won’t even exist as long as many mammals or dinosaurs. Life will take millions of years to recover after we have destroyed the life balances. Don’t be taken in by deniers… they will lead you to your demise!

    Clean energy is a good thing. We must all try to give up our love affair with dirty, polluting ways!

  9. Sadly, I cannot use my tablet (registered for the course with it), and for some reason, the course won’t let me in on another computer. I only have a slow dongle for connection at the moment, and it doesn’t work on my tablet. But, I might find a wifi somewhere….who knows?
    Good luck with your deadline Rolly.

  10. Boomer,

    Sorry about the delay in answering your comment above but I have been away on urgent family affairs.

    I want to comment on the assertions in your reply above, that you regard as facts. Especially since you tell us that you never check up on them.

    “You suggest that I take the time to verify my facts before publishing them. Well in theory that would be nice. But as the deniers say, I’m not a scientist. And my time is precious.” “

    Do I hear you correctly?

    “My work is to raise awareness and disseminate scientific information to those who are open-minded and realistic…. I’m fighting for social justice and climate justice.”

    And you do not have the time to take the trouble to verify whether what you say is factual?

    Although I suspect you are not unusual in that regard, do you have a problem with your conscience? I find your activities quite horrifying and irresponsible.
    For your information, I, myself would never dare to make a statement without first of all finding some factual support for my assertion.

    How can you be fighting for anything at all, including social and climate justice if you are not absolutely sure of your facts?

    I happen to know that much, if not most, of the “Scientific Information” does not add up.
    If you are not prepared to research what they are saying, you end up simply being a puppet for people who have neither you good health or that of the world in mind.

    Anyway I have checked up on some of them for you. Note there are references for everything I assert.

    “Hence I choose to believe what 97% of the world’s climate scientists have proven.”

    Mmm I did mention that I had studied Cook Et Al from hence that claim came from. I even got hold of his data, quite hard to get hold of initially but I believe he was finally compelled to make it available.

    Here is what I found:
    Cook, according to his data accessed 11944 technical papers which were presumably chosen because they were about Climate Change in some shape of form.
    He then categorised them as follows:
    8,Not climate related
    9,Not Peer-Reviewed
    10,No Abstract

    I took his data and extracted the following numbers of papers for each category.

    2, Impacts 4780 or 49.38% of the whole.
    3,Mitigation 3386 or 28.35% of the whole.
    4,Methods 1193 or 16.69% of the whole
    5,Paleoclimate 785 or 6.57 of the whole
    8,Not climate related 0 or 0% of the whole
    9,Not Peer-Reviewed 0 or 0% of the whole
    10,No Abstract 0 or 0% of the whole

    So from that he appears to have at least 4780 + 3386 or 49.38% plus 28. 35% = 8166 or 77.73% of papers that are relevant for his study.

    Cook then marked each paper as follows.
    1,Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+%
    2,Explicitly endorses but does not quantify or minimise
    3,Implicitly endorses AGW without minimising it
    4,No Position
    5,Implicitly minimizes/rejects AGW
    6,Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW but does not quantify
    7,Explicitly minimizes/rejects AGW as less than 50%

    Here are the numbers of papers for each endorsement
    1. 64 or 0.54%
    2. 922 or 7.72%
    3. 2910 or 24.36%
    4. 7970 or 66.73%
    5. 54 or 0.45%
    6. 15 or 0.13%
    Well I cannot see any 3% there can you? but then we are only looking at his data. We never heard his sermon right? The best I can do from that is 3896/(7970 + 54 + 15) = 48% supporting AGW which is further eroded by endorsements 2 and 3 which do not quantify whether the authors actually think AGW is a problem. Very likely they believe, as I do, that a small amount of warming is cause by humans but it is of no consequence.
    Did he just use the top 64 papers (endorsement 1) to come up with his 97%? Maybe but that figure would hardly prove very much in most rational peoples view.

    Maybe you can help. Here are Cook Et Al’s data

    Actually it is a case of cherry picking the data in my and most peoples view.

    It is obvious that the whole study is actually meaningless.

    “The other 3% is financed by the fossil fuel lobby. Therefore I choose to ignore that faction”

    Well Boomer, it is interesting that I have done a little research into this “fuel lobby” thing.

    Unfortunately for me, I have never received any offer from anyone let alone any fuel organisation, but then I am only a small fish it seems.

    However I did find this out about one of the most dangerous lobbiests in the world who made his initial fortune by having an almost complete monopoly on fossil fuel in the United States until his company was broken up by the introduction of the Sherman Act, which I know a little about because I studied it as an undergraduate.

    I am of course talking about the Rockefeller family.

    Here are some facts which I looked up just in fact. The Rockefellers are a bit sneaky and tend to show their allegiances with discretion and one has to chase them a bit. However this is what I found.

    Simply a fraction of where they are involved I suspect.

    The Rockefeller family are supporters of the following and I give the web address so you can look for yourself. However they tend to use slightly different names and often support organisations via another organisation. If you follow the financial trail, of which most “non profit” organisations are usually required to display by the law of their origin, very often the Rockefellers appear.

    Here are some examples of what I have found.

    1 United Nations

    2. ICLEI

    3. Resilience

    4 Oceanwatch Sailing via

    5 IUCN via 6. WWF

    Are Rockefellers involved with the WWF? A little tricky to trace but

    Which mention 7 IMD as one of its major supporters. Lets check there.

    IMD seems to be an arm of the WHO.
    Who is a supporter of W.H.O. then? And why does the WHO support the WWF? search for “rockefeller” search for “rockefeller”

    Of course someone else has already catalogued this:

    Oops, I almost forgot to include this beneficiary of the Rockerfellers.

    Here is a little history.
    It seems that no matter where you go in the “green” or “sustainability” world you trip over the Rockefellers . Exactly who has big oil on their side then?

    And believe me, the Rockefellers are not the sort of people who give out money without thinking of whats in it for them!

    Actually fossil fuel energy organisations love green, sustainability and AGW.

    These “philosophies” ( If they are worthy of the name) will actually benefit oil companies and the like. I don’t mean the miner at the bottom of the heap but those who control it.

    Here is why.

    Greens bleat out “Don’t use oil it is about to run out and it is heating up the planet.

    Oil companies interpret that as “Fossil fuel will always be needed but restrict the supply? Great, can do – We know that will make the price sky rocket, so we can produce less oil, get a huge price and still make as much or more money as before but with fewer expenses! A businessman’s dream!

    “I’m fighting for social justice and climate justice.”

    Are you really?

    Read more about the Rockefellers here.

    This blog is generally quite reliable as I have verified many of the things said here from other sources.

    Boomer, I don’t like your friends very much. Never trust big oil you know!

    So Boomer, I’m not what you term a “Sceptic” or “Denier” because I am stupid or prejudiced. I recognise the real criminals in this debate because I always check their sources.
    Maybe there is a lesson here for you and your readers.

    I have posted this on my website at where you are very welcome to comment if you find yourself unable to comment here.



    • Well Roger you have spent a lot of energy trying to discredit my work. Writing the following on your blog is truly uncalled for “In essence Boomer Warrior’s website is simply AGW propaganda and garbage”. I will let my readers be the judge of that. You’ve cherry picked a few phrases from the article to deliberately take shots at BoomerWarrior.Org. And I thought I could continue to dialogue with you. I’m afraid that will not be possible. I’ve lost respect for you and I will no longer approve your comments on my site.

      I do not apologize for relying on the opinions of climate experts, climatologists and scientists who agree on the climate crisis we have created for ourselves and our grandchildren. As you know, I could have simply not approved your comment but I allow all “reasonable” opinions even if I totally disagree with them.You ask me if I have a problem with my conscience. No, I do not.

      Today, Pope Francis has released his cyclical on climate change. He along with others, who are well supported and legitimized by the scientific community, are starting to finally move world leaders into taking action on climate. The G7 recently announced the end of fossil fuels by 2100, starting with massive emissions cuts between now and 2050. So you see Roger, I stand on the side of truth and compassion for humanity.

      It is clear to me that you stand on the side of the Dragons of Inaction clinging to bits and pieces of information cherry-picked from references you conveniently use to validate your claims. That is one of the most popular tactics used by deniers. And you do it well and choose to call it research. A few misplaced links to dubious articles that are filled with misinformation does not constitute research. You are just propagating climate myths and doing a major disservice to us all.

      Roger, my conscience is clear. What about yours?


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