You know you are worried about climate change, but you do nothing. If that describes how you feel you are not alone.
A new report highlights the perverse dichotomy that although about 80 percent of us believe climate change is really important, we rank it last in a list of 20 issues of concern such as the economy or terrorism.
The study by the American Psychological Association has found that despite warnings from scientists, politicians and environmental groups about climate change, people still don’t feel a sense of urgency about climate change.
This means getting people to “go green” requires policymakers, scientists and marketers to look at psychological barriers to change and what leads people to action or inaction, the report argues.
“What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior,” said task force chair Janet Swim, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University. “We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act.”
The task force identified numerous psychological barriers which they say are to blame, including:
- Uncertainty – Research has shown that uncertainty over climate change reduces the frequency of “green” behavior.
- Mistrust – Evidence shows that most people don’t believe the risk messages of scientists or government officials.
- Denial – A substantial minority of people believe climate change is not occurring or that human activity has little or nothing to do with it, according to various polls (yes, its the flat earth sceptics again!!)
- Undervaluing Risks – A study of more than 3,000 people in 18 countries showed that many people believe environmental conditions will worsen in 25 years. While this may be true, this thinking could lead people to believe that changes can be made later.
- Lack of Control – People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.
- Habit – Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change while others change slowly. Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior, according to the report.
The task force did show positive feedback mechanism at work though. For example, people are more likely to use energy-efficient appliances if they are provided with immediate energy-use feedback. Devices that show people how much energy and money they’re conserving can yield energy savings of 5 percent to 12 percent, according to research.
The task force identified other areas where psychology can help limit the effects of climate change, such as developing environmental regulations, economic incentives, better energy-efficient technology and communication methods.
“Many of the shortcomings of policies based on only a single intervention type, such as technology, economic incentives or regulation, may be overcome if policy implementers make better use of psychological knowledge,” the task force wrote.
Campaign group WWF has been looking at exactly this for a number of years. The group’s climate change strategist Dr Tom Crompton argues it is all very well asking people to change their light-bulbs, but how do you move people to bigger behavioural changes? He says that ‘The environmental movement has for too long focused on the policy response, without considering the social and psychological barriers”.
Other research has shown that people feel overwhelmed by the scale of climate change. Others do not like being lectured too. Bottom up grass-roots initiatives are more likely to succeed than top down approaches.
If people are in the UK looking for empowering action on climate change – later this week there is the empowering march against Chevron in Richmond, California. If you are in the UK, there is the Camp for Climate Action happening from 26th August to 2nd September in London.
And in the run up to Copengahen there will be any number of events in any number of countries. So why not get involved and empower yourself …. You might even enjoy it…