In a recent report from Columbia University on communicating climate change issues, there was an interesting reference to our “pool of worry.” The basic idea is that each of us has a limited number of things we can worry about, a finite pool of worry. As new situations arise that warrant worrying, we have to decide what to stop worrying about so we can add something new to our pool of worry. Some folks have a large worry pool and others a small one. All of us strive to reduce our pool of worry, and this is one pool that everyone would like to empty completely.
Within our individual worry pools we have various concerns related to the economy, environment, family, friends, future and others all vying for our attention, fighting for space in our pool of worry. Personally, I think of my worry pool as a hot tub since global climate change occupies a prominent position in the pool. When I talk to others about this, I’m interested to find that many share my concern about the climate, but others are more focused on the economy, their job, their family or other issues they feel are more pressing. Those other issues have pushed climate change right out of the worry pool altogether.
So is there a way to keep environmental issues—like climate change and sustainable living—on our action list without taking up space in our worry pool? The answer is YES. In fact, it’s important that we do so. You see most of us don’t like worrying about so many things, so we’ll act on an issue or concern only long enough to get it out of our worry pool, and that might not be enough action to really resolve the concern. If our action is based on something other than worry, that action is more likely to be long-lasting and successful. Just what we need to help resolve some of these issues.
To do this we need to look at issues like climate change as an opportunity, not a concern. This is an opportunity to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. It’s an opportunity to base our economy on sustainable energy resources. We have an opportunity to make permanent increases in our standard of living that we can truly afford as they are rooted in sustainable strategies. We have the opportunity to build employment, to build industries based on sustainable technologies and eliminate the boom and bust cycles that have plagued us in the past. There is nothing on this list that would fall into our worry pool. These are all positives that we can incorporate into our vision and ultimately into reality.
It all starts with conversation. We need to think and talk about important issues if we are to develop opinions, attitudes and actions. But let’s approach the conversation from the perspective of future opportunities, ways to remove some concerns from our worry pool rather than add to the pool. That’s a much more engaging and empowering conversation, and we can get enthusiastic about the future rather than dreading it.
If you’d like to read more about effective ways to talk about climate change and other sensitive environmental issues, check out The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public. It was produced by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University, 2009.