Dif­fer­ent way of think­ing re­gard­ing en­vi­ron­ment

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Ghada Al­sharif

BEIRUT: In recent years, ini­tia­tives have emerged all across Le­banon to fur­ther re­duce plas­tic use, and now a new course aims to change collective be­hav­ioral pat­terns us­ing cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science.

“Individual be­hav­iors, like ban­ning straws and plas­tic bags, are im­por­tant and can shift the con­sump­tion cy­cle, but the dan­ger is that this makes us be­lieve that we’ve done enough,” Samah Karaki says.

Karaki has devel­oped the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science of Cli­mate Change and So­cial Jus­tice in part­ner­ship with Jibal, a Lebanese NGO that fo­cuses on en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial jus­tice is­sues.

In May, Beit Mery mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Mayor Roy Abou Che­did signed a de­ci­sion to charge consumers LL250 ($0.16) per bag, in or­der to re­duce plas­tic waste.

The fee will go to­ward the pro­duc­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, reusable tote bags.

In Beirut, ini­tia­tives in­clud­ing Green­peace’s #Plas­tacna and lo­cal NGO Re­cy­cle Le­banon’s #BalaPlas­tic cam­paign have tar­geted Beirut din­ing and nightlife es­tab­lish­ments in a wider at­tempt to stop their use of sin­gle-use plas­tic straws and bot­tles. Re­cently, Aaliya’s Books, Ri­waq Beirut and Hook Cof­fee Shop all took steps to dra­mat­i­cally cut their con­sump­tion of plas­tics.

Sim­i­larly, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Jbeil is­sued a de­ci­sion in July 2018 to en­force a ban on plas­tic bags and re­place them with eco-friendly al­ter­na­tives. How­ever, The Daily Star has found that many small busi­nesses fell by the way­side.

With no ef­fi­cient re­cy­cling scheme in­cluded in the coun­try’s al­ready in­ef­fec­tive waste man­age­ment plan, the ma­jor­ity if not all of sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts go straight to the coun­try’s jammed land­fills – many of which lie along Le­banon’s coast­line.

For Karaki it is all about the big­ger pic­ture. She says that plac­ing the em­pha­sis on our per­sonal be­hav­ior “shifts the fo­cus and the bur­den of cli­mate change to in­di­vid­u­als, rather than plac­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity on gov­ern­ments and [large] cor­po­ra­tions, who have the power to en­act leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­late in­dus­tries.”

As the holder of a doc­tor­ate in cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science, she devel­oped the course as a way to explore how the dis­ci­pline might help to solve or mit­i­gate en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial chal­lenges. The course, which de­buted in Le­banon in part­ner­ship with Jibal’s Al­ter­na­tive Academy pro­gram, uses re­search-backed ev­i­dence to fo­cus on in­flu­enc­ing so­cial norms to achieve long-term, sustainabl­e be­hav­ioral change.

“We no­ticed that we were do­ing aware­ness cam­paigns for those who are al­ready con­vinced. The prob­lem is con­vinc­ing peo­ple who are in de­nial or choos­ing to ig­nore the is­sue,” says An­gela Saade, co­founder of Jibal.

Ac­cord­ing to Karaki, one of the main rea­sons why en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives fail to mo­bi­lize the pub­lic against cli­mate change is be­cause of cog­ni­tive bi­ases.

“Our brains perceive the present as some­thing more im­por­tant than the fu­ture. So, if I tell you cli­mate change will im­pose a risk to my sur­vival and health in 50 years, we have this bias that im­pedes our abil­ity to take ac­tion, be­cause our brains fil­ter in­for­ma­tion on what is im­me­di­ately es­sen­tial to our sur­vival,” Karaki says.

She com­pares this to the be­hav­ior of smok­ers.

“[If] I tell you you’re go­ing to die if you don’t stop smok­ing, you don’t see that risk be­cause the re­ward that you’re get­ting from smok­ing to­day is more im­por­tant than the risk of get­ting sick later,” she says.

Karaki also cites “op­ti­mistic bias,” which leads us to think that tech­nol­ogy or our power as hu­mans can solve any­thing, and the “by­stander ef­fect,” where we be­lieve some­one else will deal with the cri­sis, be it the govern­ment or our fel­low cit­i­zens.

While cli­mate change is a phe­nom­e­non that must be tack­led glob­ally, one of the most ur­gent things to be ad­dressed in Le­banon is what Karaki refers to as the “in-group and out-group” bias, in which blame is placed on other com­mu­ni­ties, or even fac­tors such as the refugee cri­sis.

“It’s dif­fi­cult for Lebanese to think of themselves as Lebanese,” Karaki says. “They of­ten think of themselves first as their re­li­gious iden­tity or individual com­mu­nity … This cre­ates even more bi­ases … you start to think, ‘I want to take the ac­tion that serves my com­mu­nity first, even if those actions are detri­men­tal for the coun­try it­self.’”

There is no quick way to tackle these bi­ases, but Karaki maintains that there are long-term so­lu­tions. She also be­lieves that teach­ing Lebanese cit­i­zens the skill of crit­i­cal think­ing is crucial to tack­ling in­er­tia re­gard­ing cli­mate change.

“Crit­i­cal think­ing should be part of the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem … Peo­ple need to think about think­ing. This is some­thing we aren’t taught. Espe­cially with en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues,” she says. The hope is that adopt­ing such an ap­proach will also help young peo­ple bet­ter un­der­stand their role as cit­i­zens, con­sider who they elect to power and ques­tion poli­cies and pro­grams that are not en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly.

Im­prov­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal lit­er­acy is a ma­jor part of cre­at­ing a deeper un­der­stand­ing of Le­banon’s nat­u­ral riches and how govern­ment de­ci­sions im­pact the lives of cit­i­zens. For ex­am­ple, not be­ing able to swim in the sea in Beirut, or Le­banon’s sym­bolic Cedar trees dy­ing be­cause of cli­mate change are is­sues that di­rectly im­pact ev­ery­one.

Col­lege Melkart in Baabda was the first Lebanese school where Karaki im­ple­mented her cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science ap­proach.

Hav­ing worked with more than 2,000 ed­u­ca­tors across Europe and the Mid­dle East, she now hopes to work with more of Le­banon’s young peo­ple. “There’s a lot of hope in these youth,” she says. “They grasped the most im­por­tant mes­sage: we should not blame [other groups] in Le­banon.”

Ac­cord­ing to Col­lege Melkart’s head­mas­ter Sami Mitri, the pro­gram al­lowed stu­dents to “reshuf­fle the cards in their head to have a free-think­ing ap­proach, and gave them the tools to see things from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.”

Karaki adds that “collective change only hap­pens through collective actions … if we want en­vi­ron­men­tal change, we need to [ask] who are the lead­ers we are vot­ing for, what are their poli­cies and can they rep­re­sent us?”

With no re­cy­cling scheme in­cluded in the coun­try, the ma­jor­ity of sin­gle-use plas­tic prod­ucts go to the coun­try’s land­fills

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.