Saturday, February 24, 2018

Which Health Rules Are Flexible?

woman resting while exercising
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Can You Bend the Health Rules?

Trying to be healthy can feel overwhelming. From exercise to nutrition to doctor visits, there's a lot to remember and a lot to fit into your life. Fortunately, most "rules" aren't one-size-fits-all mandates. So where can you take shortcuts or give yourself a break?
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woman drinking water
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"Drink eight glasses of water a day" isn't the whole story. The amount of total fluids you need (not just water you drink) depends on things like your health and where you live. You're probably fine if you don't feel thirsty and your pee is clear or pale yellow. Instead of counting, drink a glass of water with each meal and also between them. Drink water before, during, and after exercise, too.
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woman looking at smart watch
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General Exercise

Your step counter may say 10,000, but did you break a sweat for any of them? The number isn't magic -- the key here is intensity. For cardio exercise to be effective, you need to get your heart rate up for at least 10 minutes. You can get away with fewer than 20-30 minutes a day (adding up to 150 a week) when you're working harder: 15 minutes of jogging is like a half-hour of brisk walking.
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mature woman lifting kettlebell
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Muscle Building

At least twice a week, do something to strengthen your arms, shoulders, legs, hips, abs, chest, and back: Lift weights, use resistance bands, even dig in the garden or shovel snow.
How about making your exercise time do double-duty? A short, intense workout of 30-second exercises like jumping jacks, push-ups, and squats with 10 seconds of rest between improves your heart and lung health as well as your muscles.
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runner stretching leg
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You should be stretching two days a week (or more) to help you bend and move easily. Gentle practices like yoga, tai chi, and Pilates improve your flexibility and your balance, too.
You've heard to stretch before and after exercise, but research is mixed on whether you really need both. Before a workout may not do any good and might even hurt performance a little. Do your stretches after your muscles are warmed up to help you avoid injuries.
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couple making workout smoothie
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You'll need more calories if you're active, less if you're more sluggish or older. Men generally need more than women. There's a lot of measuring and math to figure out exactly how many you need. Rather than counting calories, focus on healthy eating patterns. Invest your calories wisely. Avoid lots of "empty" ones, like soda, chips, and cookies. Nutrient-rich foods have a better payoff.
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The average person only gets about half of what they need in a day, which is 25-30 grams. To work more fiber into your diet, choose whole-grain versions of foods when you can, like brown rice and whole wheat crackers. Eat a whole-grain food with every meal. And get friendly with beans and legumes! You can add chickpeas to a salad, for example, or mix lentils into your meatloaf.
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sliced vegetables in tupperware
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Veggies and Fruits

Forget servings and cups. Every time you eat, aim to get half of your food from the produce section. Reach for veggies and fruits as snacks. Juices count, too, if they're 100%, but the actual fruit or vegetable is better and will help you get your fiber. You want a broad mix of colors and textures.
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person cutting an avocado
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It's OK for about a third of your daily calories to come from fat! It's the type of fat that can trip you up. Generally speaking, stick with the unsaturated fats from fish and plants like olives, soybeans, avocados, and nuts (but not coconut and palm oils) over the saturated and trans fats from animal sources, fried foods, and baked treats. Choose lean meats and lower-fat versions of dairy foods when you have them.
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Don't worry so much about sugar that's naturally in food. Watch out for added sugars put into foods and drinks as they're made. Limit these to about 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men. If you're craving a sweet boost, choose sugar-added foods that also have nutrients, like whole-grain bars or low-fat yogurt.
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woman pouring wine
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U.S. Dietary Guidelines say women can have one drink per day and men can have two. (A drink is a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a shot of liquor.) But that's a daily limit -- not an average -- so days without alcohol don't cancel out extra-drinking days. Too much can lead to cancer, high blood pressure, injuries, alcohol abuse, and many other problems.
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woman sleeping in bed
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Adults usually need 7 or more hours a night. But it's not just about time. The quality of your sleep matters, too. Your sleep needs and patterns will also naturally change as you age. Practice good sleep habits, like going to bed and getting up at the same time, and exercise regularly. You're probably getting enough if you're productive and happy during the day -- without caffeine -- and you don't get sleepy while driving.
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person squeezing toothpaste
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Brushing and Flossing

The American Dental Association says taking care of your teeth daily means brushing twice and cleaning between them once. You might be inclined to skip flossing, but it's an easy way to prevent big problems down the road. Avoid the regret. If traditional flossing isn't your thing, use a dental pick, pre-threaded flosser, or water flosser to get rid of the plaque between your teeth.
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woman at the dentist
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Dental Visits

One visit a year might be as good as two. The American Dental Association recommends seeing the dentist regularly. So if you have healthy teeth and great habits, every 12 months could check that box for you. But if you have diabetes or smoke, for example, your dentist may want to see you sooner. Take your cues from her.
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doctor using stethoscope
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Annual Physical

Recent research has found that seeing your doctor for a checkup every year doesn't necessarily keep you healthy. If you have no complaints or issues, schedule a visit when you get a new doctor, or if you haven't seen yours in the past few years, to build your relationship. Keep up with preventive tests and vaccines as recommended between your physicals.
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woman getting an eye exam
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Eye Exams

If you don't have problems with your vision, you may see less of the eye doctor. Young people should have an eye exam once in their 20s and twice in their 30s. Definitely make an appointment at age 40, when signs of disease often show up. If you're over 65, have your eyes checked every year or so. But you'll need to go more often when you wear glasses or contacts or if you have a disease that could harm your eyes, like diabetes.
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woman highfiving her trainer
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Try Your Best

Remember, health guidelines are meant to help you live well, not make you feel bad. They're goals, not commandments. Everyone's body, including yours, is different. The best way to know what's right for you is to talk to your doctors and other health care providers. Aim to do better today than you did yesterday. Any effort is better than none.

Why Are You Always Hot?

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Feeling warm? A problem with your thyroid gland could be to blame. With hyperthyroidism, the gland makes too many hormones. This speeds up the rate that your body turns fuel into energy, which makes you hot. You may be more thirsty, hungry, and sweaty and your heart may race. You also may have diarrhea or itchy rashes. Women may have lighter or skipped periods or trouble getting pregnant.
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woman cooling off
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It's when a woman stops having her period for good, usually around age 50. You'll likely get "hot flashes." These are sudden, brief increases in body temperature. Menopause may cause intense sweating, dizziness, and a racing heart. The symptoms usually start before your last period and can last for several years. If they're severe, your doctor may suggest you manage them with hormone replacement, medications, and lifestyle changes.
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Stem cells new eggs
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Primary Ovarian Insufficiency

It happens when a woman's ovaries don't make normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs on a regular basis. It may be hard to get pregnant. You also may have hot flashes and night sweats that feel the same as menopause symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you notice these problems or skipped periods, less sexual desire, and vaginal dryness.
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digital thermometer
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Your body works best at around 98.6 F. Higher than that and you may have a fever, which can make you hot and sweaty. This often happens as your body tries to fight off germs like viruses or bacteria. Fluids, rest, and over-the-counter meds can help. Tell your doctor about a fever of 103 or higher or if you're feeling worse. Go to the emergency room if you have severe symptoms like a very bad headache, stiff neck, confusion, or seizures.
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Caffeinated coffee can make you more alert and less sleepy in the morning, but it also boosts your body temperature. Too much of it can raise blood pressure, blood sugar, and stomach acid and cause sleep problems. Read packaging on tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and medicine. Gauge your own response to figure out how much is too much for you.
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red curry chicken
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Spicy Food

Feel like your body heat zooms when you eat those spicy hot peppers at your local taco joint? You may be right. Spicy food seems to raise your core body temperature and can even make you sweat. There's nothing to worry about. Some studies show a spicy diet appears to be good for you. Just don't overdo it, especially if you notice that it makes you feel bad.
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senior couple exhausted
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Work your body hard and it burns more fuel. That makes more heat. Your body tries to get rid of it by sending warm blood closer to the skin and cooling it with sweat. But sometimes it can't get rid of it fast enough and your core temperature goes up. It happens more easily when it's hot and humid, when it can lead to heatstroke, a serious condition that needs emergency medical care.
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hot day
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Hot Weather

Your body tries to keep itself at 98.6 F no matter what the weather. When it's hot and humid, your body moves blood to the skin's surface and cools it with sweat. But not right away. It waits until your body hits a certain temperature. The exact number can vary depending on your age, health, and fitness level, but you're likely to feel hot even as your body tries to cool you down.
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diabetes in dictionary
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Diabetes (Types 1 and 2)

With this disease, your blood vessels don't dilate, or widen, as well as they should, which makes it harder to bring blood to the skin's surface and get rid of heat. The sweat glands that are supposed to cool your skin don't work as well either. That makes it much harder to get your temperature back down.
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woman sweating
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When you're older, your cooling system may not work as well. If it's hot outside, your heart needs to pump more blood to the surface to help keep your body cool. As you age, your heart just isn't as strong, so it has to work harder. To make things worse, your blood vessels may not widen like they used to, so you can't get as much blood to the skin's surface at once.
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Cardiovascular Disease

If you have it, your blood vessels don't expand as well as they should and your sweat-based cooling system doesn't work as well either. This makes it harder to cool down when you're hot. It can be dangerous, too. A weakened heart may strain to send blood around your body, and that can cause a heart attack.
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water bottle
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Drink Too Little Water

If you don't stay hydrated, you won't sweat enough and your body can't cool as easily. If you think you may not be getting enough water, take an iced water bottle with you when you are out in the heat or working out.
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senior aerobics class
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You're Out of Shape

When you're fit, it can help keep you cool. It's not clear why, but studies show that people who do more aerobic exercise -- the kind that gets your heart pumping -- are better able to cool down when they get hot. And of course, it's also good for your heart, weight, and even your mood.
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You're Not Used to Hot Weather

The more time you spend outside, the easier it is for your body to get used to the heat. It takes about 2 weeks for a healthy person to get "acclimated" to a new temperature -- longer if you're older or ill. Once it does, you'll feel cooler and your body will be better at staying cool and hydrated when working hard. It can help to set your indoor temperature no more than 10 degrees cooler than the outdoor temperature.
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Lean people stay cool better than folks who are overweight. The more obese you are, the less skin surface you have for each pound of body weight. The result: less cooling power. If you need to drop some pounds, talk to your doctor about ideas for a healthy diet and an exercise program.

Is Chocolate Really an Aphrodisiac?

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Chocolate Is Today's Healthy Treat

Chocolate. There are few foods that evoke as much passion as this decadent treat. Folklore from many cultures claimed that consuming chocolate instilled faith, health, strength, and sexual passion. Once an indulgence of royalty, it is now a treasured and accessible – and yes, even healthy – treat. So where did our infatuation with chocolate begin?
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Where Does Chocolate Come From?

The cacao tree, whose pods contain seeds that can be processed into chocolate, was discovered 2,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests of the Americas. The first people known to have consumed cacao were the Classic Period Maya (250-900 A.D.). They mixed ground cacao (cocoa) seeds with seasonings to make a bitter, spicy drink that was believed to be a health elixir.
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What Was Chocolate's Great Allure?

To the Mayans, cocoa pods symbolized life and fertility. The pod was often represented in religious rituals, including marriage ceremonies, and was referred to as food of the gods. In central Mexico, the Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree, and that it had nourishing, fortifying, and even aphrodisiac qualities.
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Europeans Are Charmed by Chocolate

Europeans got their first taste of chocolate in 1519, when Montezuma offered the spicy drink to Spanish explorer Cort├ęs and his army. The Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa seeds back to Spain, where they introduced new spices and sugar to the liquid concoction. The fad drink spread throughout Europe, where it remained a beverage of the elite for centuries.
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Chocolate's Seductive Reputation

Chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac flourished in the French royal court. Erotic art and literature were inspired by the seductive substance. Casanova, the infamous womanizer, made a habit of drinking chocolate before his romantic escapades. Even today, romantic lore commonly identifies chocolate as an aphrodisiac.
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Chocolate Goes Global

The first machine-made chocolate was produced in Barcelona in 1780, paving the way for the mass production of chocolate. Later, mechanical inventions made it possible to produce smooth, creamy, solid chocolate for eating -- not just the liquid for drinking. The first solid chocolate bar was developed by British chocolate maker Fry & Sons in the early 1800s.
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Chocolate Gifts on Valentine’s Day

"It's believed that during the 17th century, lovers began exchanging mementos on Valentine's Day – sweet treats were one of them. In 1868, the first Valentine's Day box of chocolates was introduced [by Richard Cadbury]," says Susan L. Fussell, senior director of communications for the National Confectioners Association.
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Three Cheers for Chocolate!

In 1875, the first milk chocolate was introduced to the market by Daniel Peter of Switzerland. Chocolate became so popular around the world that even during World War II the U.S. government shipped cocoa beans to the troops. Today, the U.S. Army includes chocolate bars in their rations. Chocolate has even been taken into space as part of the diet of U.S. astronauts.
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Is Chocolate Really an Aphrodisiac?

Not really, even though throughout its history, chocolate has been purported as one. Chocolate contains small amounts of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA), a.k.a. the "love drug," and it's been linked to the regulation of physical energy, mood, and attention. A tiny amount of PEA is released at moments of emotional euphoria, elevating blood pressure and heart rate. There is no evidence that PEA found in foods increases PEA in the brain – although many chocolate lovers may beg to differ!
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Chocolate Makes Health Headlines

Dark chocolate (as opposed to milk or white chocolate) contains healthful flavonoids similar to those found in tea, red wine, fruits, and vegetables. One small study suggests that dark chocolate can improve blood vessel flow and may improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity to help reduce the risk of diabetes. But beware, chocolate candy has plenty of saturated fat and sugar, so only enjoy small portions of it as part of a healthy diet.

Inspirational Quote – February 24, 2018

“I admire people who choose to shine even after all the storms they’ve been through.”

I really do! They inspire me to believe that I can do the same. If they can cope with all the stresses and problems that life throws at them and learn and move on, well so can I. People like this deserve our admiration for being role models for the rest of us. It’s as if they’re saying, look what we’ve been through, and we’ve coped and survived, so believe that you can too. Also, it helps that they have perhaps gone through a situation that we are currently experiencing, and can offer comfort and advice that there is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel and we just need to get there.

Five Boys' Response to Bullying

Every morning, the students at Franklin Elementary in Mankato, Minnesota, take the Pledge of Allegiance. But five fifth-grade boys embody "liberty and justice for all." When the boys noticed their classmate with a learning disability getting teased, they banded together and made him a part of their gang. Watch this short film in which the boys themselves tell you why they did what they did. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

How to Overcome “Apocalypse Fatigue” Around Climate Change

Psychologist Per Espen Stoknes explains how to reframe discussions of climate change so that we feel inspired to act.

Many people say they’re concerned about global warming. But how do we motivate people to act?
Doomsday predictions of flooding coastlines, destructive storms and fires, and devastating species extinctions—repeated over and over in the press—can lead to “apocalypse fatigue.” In the face of these overwhelming messages, even well-intentioned people may start to avoid conversations around seeking solutions.
Per Espen Stoknes, a psychologist and economist recently appointed to the Norwegian Parliament, has studied the ways in which humans react to hearing about catastrophic climate change. His book, What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming, is about what we can do differently—how to reframe the debate and turn apocalypse fatigue into personal and societal action. 
In his 2017 TEDGlobal talk, Stoknes said, “The biggest obstacle to dealing with climate disruptions lies between your ears.” I spoke with him recently to find out more about what he means by that, and how we can overcome it.
Jill Suttie: Why do you think our biggest obstacle to climate change is our minds?
Per Espen StoknesPer Espen Stoknes
Per Espen Stoknes: After 30 years of intensive climate science research, we have sufficient knowledge about our climate system and how it interacts with atmospheric emissions. But our knowledge about how people respond to climate science has been lagging behind. Social scientists may have come late to this; but, finally, we seem to have a growing consensus around how to take social science research—from social psychology, sociology, political science, etc.—and put it to use. The shift from looking only at climate science to looking at climate change responses is overdue and hugely important.
JS: What is the best way to talk about climate change if we want to be more successful at engaging people and addressing it?
PES: More than 80 percent of all news and mainstream media play up the issue of doomsday or catastrophe. From psychological research, we know that if you overdo the threat of catastrophe, you make people feel fear or guilt or a combination. But these two emotions are passive. They make people disconnect and avoid the topic rather than engage with it.
There are three main frames that seem to create more engagement and work much better than catastrophe framings or other negative framings.
One framing involves speaking about climate change as a health issue concerning people we care about—our families, our children. We don’t want respiratory disease, so we all want clean air. The second is a safety or insurance framing. It’s about being prepared or ready in case something goes in the wrong direction—a risk management approach, that speaks to business/financial people. They work actively and professionally with risk and understand the need to insure. Finally, we should speak about opportunities for smarter cities, smarter buildings, better food sources, smarter energy systems and transportation systems, and all the opportunities that empowerment from these technologies gives us for better lives.
If we are able to reframe the climate issue this way in our society’s discourse, there is less fear and guilt attached to it—more a sense of “collective efficacy” or the idea that we can do something together as a society. Now, this deep reframing of the issue takes time—it’s different than simply having a slogan or a new news headline. But reframing impacts how people feel about and perceive the issue.
JS: What are the psychological barriers that get in the way of people focusing on global warming and its solutions?
PES: [In addition to framing,] another barrier—and maybe the most important—is the distancing barrier. When we speak about climate, it’s far out into the future, usually in 2050 or beyond. CO2 is invisible, climate issues are happening somewhere else, and somebody else is responsible. I’m sure if climate change were a bad-smelling, brownish haze that some tyrant, lunatic, or crook was releasing into the world, we’d join together and shoot him out of existence.
But climate change is invisible, slow-moving, and doesn’t smell; and if there’s an enemy, it’s us. We feel helpless because it’s so far away. It’s so big; whatever I do wouldn’t impact the issue; it’s outside my scope of influence. So, the more you distance yourself from the topic, the less emotion and engagement.
A third barrier is the dissonance we feel due to our lifestyle, which we built around fossil energy. Our cars, food system, planes, buildings, our entire society rely on fossil fuels. Then, climate researchers come along and say, well, actually we shouldn’t do all these things because it destroys the atmosphere, and you’re complicit in destroying the planet. That creates an inner conflict between what we do and what we know—a dissonance.
Most people react to dissonance with self-justifications—ways to say that we are alright. To feel less dissonance, I might say, for instance, that my neighbor has a bigger car than I do, or it doesn’t matter if I stop eating meat if I’m the only one doing it. I can always compare myself to others and find that they are worse than me. A second strategy is to doubt the climate science altogether. After all, there was global warming during the ice age, but there were no cars or planes then. So, why do we blame cars and planes now?
A fourth barrier is denial. Now, denial is a word that has been overused as a derogative term—only stupid or deluded people who don’t have the right information are “climate deniers.” But therapists discovered long ago that humans were capable of both knowing something and not knowing something at the same time—to have information but live as if they don’t. It’s no surprise that we are prone to denial when it’s hard to change our lifestyle and the science evokes fear or guilt in us.
Finally, there’s identity. In America, particularly, climate science has been linked closely with partisan politics and has become an identity issue. I belong to this political group with particular political values that guide me, and they say that government is the main problem, or that there’s too much regulation threatening my individual freedom or the free market. If climate science comes up, it suggests solutions involving more taxes, more regulations to protect the atmosphere. If this conflicts with my values and my identity, then the science must be wrong.
People will protect their identity against threatening facts. This is reinforced by what we call the confirmation bias. We all tend to search out facts and information and experts that confirm our values, and ignore facts and experts that are contrary to them.
JS: What are the workarounds for these barriers?
PES: We covered reframing already. A second important solution is using the power of social networks. Climate scientists, being scientists, think that most people are rational in their approach to data and learning and just lack information. But, in reality, most people are social before they’re rational.
When I consider an issue, I will typically look at what my peers, my neighbors, and my family believe. What do they make of this issue? Then, I will align myself with what I can see or hear from them. That’s where social norms or social networks become hugely impactful. The ripple effect from person to person doing visible, positive social acts becomes central.
“The biggest obstacle to dealing with climate disruptions lies between your ears”
―Per Espen Stoknes
There’s a famous study that has been replicated many times. Around 4,000 households participated. The first 1,000 households were asked to conserve power or energy because it’s sustainable and the right thing to do for the planet. The second were asked to conserve power for future generations. The third got informed about how much they could save on their utility bill if they cut their power use. The fourth were told how their energy use compares to their neighbors’ use. Of these groups, it’s always the fourth one—powered by social norms and social networks—that comes out on top. We should put these to use. There’s a company called Opower that’s doing that.
You’ll have a much higher impact if people perceive a climate attitude is coming from somebody who’s like them or part of their social group than if it’s coming from outside. If we can change the messenger—away from a climate scientist or a coastal liberal or whatever—to somebody who’s more similar to them, that’d be a great approach to engaging people.
Another solution has a lot to do with nudging. If it takes a lot of effort to figure out which car, foodstuff, or transportation is the most climate-friendly, then people tend to just pick a default option, due to a kind of overload on their attention. So, we could create a green default option, where, if I don’t think much, I still end up picking the most energy-efficient option. That’s a great way to influence some people’s behaviors and so reduce their dissonance.
JS: Do you have an example of how that might work?
PES: Sure. If there’s a buffet, for instance, and the first thing you see is meat, you tend to load up on meat and so have a big carbon impact. If the same buffet is rearranged so that the first thing you come to is salad or veggies, then people will take much less meat. Or you can give people a smaller plate or remove trays from cafeterias. People tend to pick fewer items and generate less trash. Those are just a few examples of how to rearrange our “decision architecture”—the situation in which we make our everyday decisions.
Thousands rally for action on climate change around New Zealand in 2015.Thousands rally for action on climate change around New Zealand in 2015.
Nudging and social norms can be amplified if they can be combined with better storytelling, too. The story of the apocalypse disengages people. But there are other stories that seem to be more engaging—like the story of smarter, more resource-efficient growth, where we reduce waste while improving our lives. This story fits well with businesspeople.
Another is that what we’re really looking for in life isn’t more stuff, but the good life. The good life includes better relationships, more meaningful jobs, and connecting to nature. That’s the happiness story.
Another story is a shift from dominance over nature to stewardship of God’s creation, which is an ethical story. Some call this the greening of religion, like what the Pope did with his encyclical, where he speaks of taking care of God’s creation. And then the story of “rewilding”—changing the idea of nature as a resource to nature as an ecosystem that we can help and enhance by re-investing in natural capital.
Some people respond more strongly to one story than another. But the more we speak about this, the clearer the vision is of a future society without climate destruction. When people want that kind of future, they align their lives with the story, and the framings, nudges, and social networks start to change accordingly.
JS: So, knowing what you know about people’s resistance, how do you maintain hope yourself?
PES: Good question. There are versions of hope that are passive: Somebody will fix this problem with technology and soon magically remove the CO2 from the air. That hope is dependent upon a kind of magical, technical fix. And there is a more active, optimistic hope: If we just fight hard enough, we’ll turn society around.
I have hope that is not dependent on what happens around me, but is grounded in my inner values. I do this work because it’s aligned with who I am. So, it’s a matter of character and style, rather than waiting for or depending on short-term successes.
Maybe this type of hope is darker, because I have to acknowledge I don’t know how it will end. But, on the other hand, I’m not dependent on knowing how it will play out, because I want to be part of the transition anyway.
It gives me joy to take action today. It brings out a sense of satisfaction in me, because I’m contributing. I’m not passively waiting for a fix or magically expecting my own contributions to solve the problem. I’m part of something larger. And, sensing that connection to a larger call to action, working through and in me, I feel connection—to the air, to society, to a larger transition. It brings me a feeling of flow, participation, groundedness, and sense of purpose that is larger than me.