Aimed for the US - and hit

1 February 2016

He just got an award for "Outstanding Academic Title 2015" from American Library Association. Per Espen Stoknes' research is beginning to gain a foothold in the country he thinks needs it most.

Per Espen Stoknes

In addition to the "Outstanding Academic Title 2015" award, American PhD students have made based a film on his research, which racked up 100k views, and before Christmas he wrote a feature article together with Schwarzenegger to influence Republicans to think more on clean energy. There is much to suggest that the Centre for Green Growth's strategy is working.

Asked whether his book is part of a larger project, Stoknes responded immediately that it grew from BI's work with climate strategy. In 2008 he started the Centre for Green Growth with an endowed professorship from Toyata which he shares with his colleague Jørgen Randers, and started researching psychology in the context of climate.

Green agenda

Stoknes is clear on how he will help to influence the climate issue - he will influence the debate in the United States.
- They are influential on energy technology and have the second highest total emissions. So the United States is the most important country to solve the climate crisis and trigger green growth. So it's also nice to get this award from American Library Association.

The book is predicted by the prize giver to lead to a paradigm shift in the climate debate. Stoknes is somewhat more modest, but hopes that it will contribute to change.

- I have collected over three hundred new studies and presented them in a way so that the book can act as a resource for climatologists and climate communicators but so that it can also be understandable for activists and ordinary people.

A central theme of the book is a climate paradox about how people repel the idea of climate change the more information they get about it from the research. You can see a film about this, as the underscore in the case that is made by PhD students lectured by Stoknes in the United States.

Stoknes' Master's thesis, which he wrote in 1994, was about ecopsychology - a topic still current in his work.

- There is a common thread in what I have done for the past 25 years. What I am doing now is part of ecopsychological thinking, or an application of it. It is important to integrate climate psychology more in economics. This will be my next project.

The recognition he has received in the form of a book award provides even better opportunities to reach out big in the United States.

Avoid political polarisation

It is important to prevent climate becoming locked into the left or right side in politics. In his book, Stoknes outlines 5 barriers that prevent people from taking the climate issue on board. He explains how Republicans and Democrats in the United States are characterised by their own psychological barrier:

- Both parties have had their pitfalls. Democrats are characterised by a "doomsday" barrier.

This barrier, briefly summarized, is about how pessimistic thinking creates a sense of powerlessness and that nothing works.

- Republicans have an identity barrier. They do not like higher taxes and regulations. And it leads them to think that climate science must be wrong because it conflicts with their values. Identity overrides facts. In this way, both parties each have a psychological barrier, he continued.

The ambition for article, which was publised on CNN before Christmas, was to get Republicans to remove themselves from this mindset, and take on ownership of the climate issue.

Proposes concrete solutions 

One of the other barriers Stoknes reviews is dissonance - that our actions are not consistent with our knowledge. He believes that we must therefore make it easier for people to become eco-friendly and to get social recognition for this. Action drives attitude, not vice versa, he explains.

- This is done by means of "nudging", i.e. to change people's actions, you must change the options available. First you have to drive the electric car, then after you will adopt a climate-attitude.

Stoknes is clear we can not solve the climate crisis overnight:

- Individual solutions will not solve the problem. But they can lead to attitudes spreading. And this will pave the way for more ambitious policies.

"The Terminator" was a supporter

After the book had been the subject of many discussions, he received an email from Schwarzenegger who had read about it on the web, and was invited to come to the Schwarzenegger Institute in Los Angeles to give a lecture. Schwarzenegger gave a speech and afterwards they discussed approaches to article over lunch.

- It was cool there. He is good at rhetoric, and at portraying complex things in simple ways.

Stoknes is apparently not significantly affected by humourous connotations conjured up when one thinks of the politician's previous career and his ethos in politics.

He is one of the smartest politicians in California - adept at reading political currents. He is also a great megaphone for the case because other people are listening to him, and in a different way.

Schwarzenegger and Stoknes also had good timing for writing the article. It was the same week as the Republican candidate debate in which Schwarzenegger among others had contributed as a speechwriter.

You can read about the case chronicle with Schwarzenegger here.

You can also see all news here.