- May 2017
- Apr 2017
adapt to a permanently altered environment
Some of the environmental damage caused by human actions is too far along to be repaired, including species loss and, to some extent, climate change. Because we cannot undo some of our environmental alterations, we must adapt to them. We already know a great deal about how to adapt to climate change, and in many places around the world, particularly cities, communities are making the adaptive changes needed to deal with extreme weather and other climate change–related impacts.
Fundamental behavioral changes are thus needed to stop damaging the natural world
Human society is on an unsustainable trajectory. Because environmental degradation is ultimately a human behavior problem, human behavior must change. Adjustments in resource consumption must happen at both an individual level as well as across societies. The industrial systems and infrastructure that currently serve human needs must change as well, to dramatically lower their impact on natural systems.
future of humanity—and indeed, all life on Earth—depends on it
Though humans are largely driven by self-interest, we do organize ourselves into formal and informal groups that have made us a force of nature on the planet. Some argue that our shared imagination is our strength.
Read more at TED: http://ideas.ted.com/why-humans-run-the-world/
urban dwellers need access to nature in order to rediscover their interdependence with it and deepen their sense of place
Access to nature has been especially limited for African Americans partially because of a seterotype that they "don't do nature." One woman has developed a network of leaders who now take groups of African Americans hiking, birding, biking, and camping. So far this effort has touched over 7000 urbanites.
Read more at National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/07/12/421533481/outdoor-afro-busting-stereotypes-that-blacks-dont-hike-or-camp
decreased among those with a conservative worldview
Between 2001 and 2016 in the United States, Republican concern about climate change decreased, while Democrats' concern increased. In 2001 there was a 29% gap between the two parties' concern; this gap increased to 44% by 2016.
J. L. Robertson, J. Barling, Greening organizations through leaders’ influence on employees’ pro-environmental behaviors. J. Organ. Behav. 34, 176-194 (2013)
This research examined 139 pairs of leaders and followers in the United States and Canada. What they found is that transformational leadership behaviors positively influence the environmental behavior of followers. "Transformational leaders" are trusted by followers because they have shown themselves to be experts, yet they make followers feel important too. Such leaders energize and empower followers to take on risks and to overcome challenges, trusting them to make good choices and feel confident about it. Perhaps surprisingly, transformational leadership is a teachable skill.
P. W. Schultz, Strategies for promoting proenvironmental behavior: Lots of tools but few instructions. Eur. Psychol. 19, 107-117 (2014)
Schultz reviews the most common strategies for facilitating more sustainable behaviors. There are quite a variety of tools that can be employed, such as education, prompts, feedback, incentives, social norms, and public commitments. Which ones will prove most useful depends on how high or low the relative barriers and benefits are. This balance is affected by factors such as how challenging, novel, and (un)popular the new behavior is, how deeply ingrained the old habits are, and the relative likelihood of changing the context; for instance, infrastructure often takes a long time to change.
S. van der Linden, E. Maibach, A. Leiserowitz, Improving public engagement with climate change: Five “best practice” insights from psychological science. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 10, 758–763 (2015)
American decision-makers have procrastinated about making climate change–related policies because it is hard to see, feel, and understand the effects of climate change. These Yale University researchers use psychological research to describe how to engage people in the urgent task of reducing our climate impacts.
It is important to: highlight the local and personal impacts of a climate change, connect the proposed activity to behaviors that are already considered normal, highlight the benefits that people will gain, and tap into people’s emotions and values—including the sense of an ethical responsibility to other species, future humans, and the poor and marginalized.
D. M. Kahan, E. Peters, M. Wittlin, P. Slovic, L. L. Ouellette, D. Braman, G. Mandel, The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 732-735 (2012)
Though the scientific community is in overwhelming agreement that climate change is a threat to human well-being, much of the public does not view the issue as a major risk.
In prior work, the "Cultural Cognition Thesis" proposes that this is because people form their ideas of risk by looking at how others in their identity groups perceive an issue. In contrast, the "Science Comprehension Thesis" proposes that it happens because people are not good at thinking like scientists.
Research by Kahan and colleagues finds support for the Cultural Cognition Thesis, but no evidence for the Science Comprehension Thesis.
Learn more at National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124008307
Pew Research Center. Global concern about climate change, broad support for limiting emissions
This poll explored global regional differences in the perception of the threat posed by climate change. Around the world, around 51% of those polled said that climate change is already harming people. Globally, the poll found that a majority of people think their countries should limit greenhouse gas emissions and that the world needs an international agreement to curb emissions.
Within the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany, large differences in concern about climate change were found between followers of right-of-center parties, who were less concerned, and followers of left-of-center parties, who were more concerned.
R. B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Harper Business, New York, revised edition, 2006).
This classic book reviews six key sources of persuasion:
- Reciprocity: People feel compelled to return favors;
- Commitment and consistency: People are more likely to agree to do something if they've agreed to something similar in the past;
- Social proof: Especially in new situations, we watch what other people do and then copy it;
- Authority: We do what a respected authority tells us to do;
- Liking: We do what people we like do or tell us to do
- Scarcity: We tend to be persuaded to do something if time is running out or if there's a risk that we might miss out.
G. Hardin, The tragedy of the commons. Science 162, 1234-1248 (1968)
This classic article describes what psychologists call "commons dilemmas." A commons dilemma occurs when individuals are tempted to overuse a shared resource.
In a commons dilemma, the immediate consequence benefits the individual, but the long-term consequence punishes the group.
M. van Vugt,V. Griskevicius, P. W. Schultz, Naturally green: harnessing stone age psychological biases to foster environmental behavior. Soc. Issues Policy Rev. 8, 1-32 (2014)
These authors suggest that efforts to get people to behave sustainably are most successful when they harmonize with—rather than deny—our deeply embedded, evolutionary-based human tendencies. They identify five human tendencies and propose solutions that are consistent with them:
- We are self-interested. Thus, emphasize benefits to people and their families.
- We want to have more status than the people around us. Encouraging friendly competitions can increase motivation because people want to win.
- We imitate others. Therefore, it is important to publicly display and communicate expected behavior.
- We focus on the present. Thus, emphasize today's consequences.
- We ignore what we can't sense. Therefore it is important to make the invisible visible.
S. Bamberg, G. Möser, Twenty years after Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera: A new meta-analysis of psycho-social determinants of pro-environmental behaviour. J. Environ. Psychol. 27, 14–25 (2007)
Meta-analyses are "studies of studies," meaning that they look at patterns across a large number of research projects that focus on the same topic. This meta-analysis looked at data from 57 different samples. They conclude that psychological variables such as perceived control over a behavior, a sense of moral obligation to act, how difficult the behavior is, and whether their friends and family would support the behavior are connected to whether people intend to behave in pro-environmental ways. The intention to behave in pro-environmental ways, in turn, is the best predictor of actual pro-environmental behavior.
Another important feature of this article is that it replicates a previous meta-analysis completed 20 years ago and has consistent findings, meaning that even after 20 years, the patterns seem to be the same.
C. Roser-Renouf, E. Maibach, A. Leiserowitz, S. Rosenthal, Global Warming’s Six Americas and the Election (Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, New Haven, CT, 2016)
A research group at Yale University regularly measures the American public's views on climate change. People have a range of views from those who are extremely worried to those who dismiss climate change as not being real. The six categories are: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive. During the 2016 presidential election, only the alarmed group (17% of Americans) considered a candidate's position on climate change to be an important factor when deciding for whom to vote.
Further psychological research needs to elucidate how to accelerate the adoption of ecologically-grounded worldviews
Generally people build their own worldview over time through trial and error, listening to elders, going to school and religious services, and general experience. There has been very little experimental research done about how people can transform quickly from an unsustainable worldview, such as the modern-industrial worldview, to a more ecologically-grounded worldview.
change the larger systems that drive so much of human behavior
We are surrounded by systems that define how we behave, including neighborhoods, households, schools, religions, and the economy.
The government is one example of a system that defines rules about how groups of people act (for instance, when and for how long people can water their lawns), interact together (whether roads are built to accommodate pedestrians, bikes, buses, trains, and cars), and how we share resources (such as community composting sites).
It is important to remember that a system such as a government is run by people, so individual people need to start the process of changing the systems by voting, running for office, or through work as government employees.
Individuals whose actions are informed by a deeper understanding of how the planet really works
Ecoliteracy is understanding how healthy natural systems operate. This includes principles such as:
- All life is interconnected
- There are limits to how quickly natural resources such as fish and trees regenerate
- Changes humans make affect everything else in the ecological system
Ecologically-inspired principles such as these are critical for creative and appropriate changes to the transportation, food, and energy systems that humans design.
Learn more at the Center for Ecoliteracy: https://www.ecoliteracy.org/article/ecological-worldview-hearing-cries-world
humans can move toward a sustainable society by creating conditions that motivate environmentally responsible collective action
The situation is a powerful driver of human behavior. Therefore we must create situations that drive behavior toward sustainability rather than against it. This means that, among other things, situations, tasks, and activities have to engage people's needs to feel competent, have choices, and to feel like they belong.
echo natural forms and patterns (ie., nonhuman animal and plant) in built environments
Biophilic design of buildings includes facilitating actual contact with nature (for instance, access to natural light), using natural materials (such as wood), and representing nature through artwork. Like nature itself, biophilic design tends to be complex and dynamic, imitating elements such as water and vegetation. It provides natural patterns that humans have evolved to prefer, such as "prospect and refuge" or the ability to see others without being seen.
Biophilic designs tend to support human health and well-being, productivity, and our sense of connection to nature.
increasingly incorporating green features such as community gardens, walking and biking paths, and green roofs
Adding a variety of types of green spaces in cities—including lining streets with trees and constructing buildings with plants on their roofs—can provide benefits for ecological systems (e.g., providing food and refuge for migrating animals). Humans also benefit from city designs that include natural features. We feel better physically and mentally, and we develop more accurate knowledge and more positive attitudes about nature.
Read more in Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160604051012.htm
Urban design is the process of organizing cities (including buildings, roads, and green spaces) that relies on principles from many disciplines in architecture, engineering, and planning.
reconnecting with nature so that humans actually experience and develop a dynamic understanding of the world’s systems and human-environment interdependence
It may take a lifetime, or longer, to develop Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), but it is possible to quite quickly reconnect oneself with surrounding natural systems. All that is required is time spent outside with some amount of intentional observation and appreciation for the nonhuman world.
Additional research is needed to understand how to enhance the pace and depth of worldview change
There is very little research studying how to change worldviews. Yet, people in developed countries will not be able to make ecologically appropriate decisions if they keep thinking the same way they do now.
There are many tools that psychologists have developed for other purposes that can be applied to facilitating worldview change. For instance, educational psychologists, who are experts about how people learn, and industrial/organizational psychologists, who regularly develop employee training programs, can apply what they know about teaching knowledge, skills, and abilities to teaching worldview principles.
Ray Anderson often spoke of the “Spear in the Heart” moment when he realized his business was endangering future generations
The late Ray Anderson turned a petroleum-intense process of making carpet into a sustainable business model.
Read more at the Los Angeles Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/15/local/la-me-ray-anderson-20110815
they must internalize an ecologically-grounded worldview and integrate it into the vision they set for others
There are physical laws that govern how ecosystems work. Only when leaders better understand this will they be able to make sustainable decisions. Because the path from ecosystem to organization is often long, this connection between individuals' decisions and the state of the planet is very hard to see. Therefore, decision-makers have to add "understanding how ecosystems work" to the knowledge, skills, and abilities they develop to do their jobs.
leaders who possess the prevailing modern-industrial worldview may only make their processes or products “less bad”
Creating efficient systems is a critical goal of companies as it creates a larger margin of profit. Through this lens, an organizational leader might conclude that sustainability is about using resources like petroleum more efficiently. Though using less petroleum is better than the status quo, the efficiency mindset does not guide us to ask questions like "Is there a way to avoid using petroleum altogether?" This outside-of-the-box thinking facilitates the radical changes we need to make to our systems.
requires nothing short of heroic effort
Social pressure, whether real or perceived, keeps people from acting or speaking up even if they believe that something is terribly wrong. Social pressure can result from the rules—both written policies and unwritten norms—we develop as groups and pressure to conform to them.
Diverging from group rules means potential rejection from the group. This means that people who act must be willing to experience the strong negative emotions associated with potential rejection (e.g., fear, embarrassment).
A person serves as a catalyst if she or he inspires or stimulates an activity or event.
empower their members to innovate, take risks, and take the long-term view together
Van Velsor and Quinn identify three tasks of organizational leaders: communicate vision, or the direction the organization should go; align all of the different organizational activities toward the vision; and build member commitment to the vision.
When a leader's vision includes sustainability, then it expands decision-making to include future generations and whole systems. Further, when leaders understand how drastically organizations have to change, and how complex and interdependent systems really are, they are likely to support innovations and new, untested ideas.
have the capacity to move in new, ecologically sound directions
Organizations can facilitate engaging all of their members in the work of sustainability by making it part of everyone's job to be a sustainability champion and providing resources to support new ideas.
Read more in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/engaging_employees_to_create_a_sustainable_business
organizations are currently significant contributors to worldwide environmental degradation
Two examples of impacts created by business organizations:
Industries ranging from construction to dry cleaning create significant amounts of toxic waste.
In 2014, the United States Envrionmental Protection Agency estimated that the industrial sector of the economy contributes about 29% of greenhouse gasses. This means that the direct (e.g., chemical reactions during production) and indirect (e.g., using electricity, transporting goods) emissions linked to making the material goods that we use every day are the largest contributor to our carbon footprint.
schools often fail to prepare graduates to understand ecology
Ecological literacy is the understanding of how complex natural systems make life on Earth possible and the use of this understanding to guide daily choices.
This is a relatively new idea, set forth in the late 1980s. So, even if middle school and high school science teachers took ecology courses in college, many have had no formal training about climate science. This makes it very challenging to teach students about climate change.
Read more at National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/02/19/467206769/why-science-teachers-are-struggling-with-climate-change
Western-industrial countries tend to extract resources from the earth (e.g., mine for minerals and ore), then make products for people to purchase (e.g., cellphones), and when people are done using the product, they throw it away.
set machine defaults to efficiency modes
You may be familiar with sleep mode on your computer, or you might have seen a printer that defaults to double-sided printing. This type of resource- and energy-saving default mode helps people behave more sustainably without taking any action at all.
Hotels are now installing energy-saving devices that turn off lights and turn down heat when guests leave the room. The guests do not have to do anything to save energy—the devices to it for them.
Read more at the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/10/business/hotel-energy-efficiency-carbon-footprint.html
prioritize vendors that meet sustainability criteria
Most organizations that purchase supplies and equipment have rules about who they buy them from, often based on cost or quality. Purchasing rules have only recently included environmental requirements. One such example is the Environmentally Preferrable Purchasing Program for purchases by the United States federal government.
Read more at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/greenerproducts/about-environmentally-preferable-purchasing-program
Organizational culture, by way of norms, values, policy, and leadership, powerfully influences individual members
Organizational culture consists of the values, norms, stories, and symbols that help people understand "how things work around here" in any given organization.
The fact that norms and values are linked to pro-environmental employee behavior is not surprising. What is surprising is that so little research is being done to replicate these findings to create a more robust literature on employee pro-environmental behavior.
Inoue and Alfaro-Barrantes summarize 17 research articles in their review. Note: This is not very many articles for such an important topic. Ten of the articles focused on the impact of social norms. Fewer articles addressed values, organizations' work policies, and leadership. Yet, the findings for these cultural attributes do indicate that they affect employee pro-environmental behaviors.
Though psychological research has examined what motivates people to volunteer and cooperate for social causes, or mobilize around political campaigns, the results have yet to be applied to collective efforts for conservation.
Psychologists have studies individuals' motivations for volunteering for many decades. The reasons people volunteer, or join collective efforts to help others, include:
- To do something new
- To feel good about themselves
- To learn a new skill
- To help others, the community, or the larger world
- To live their values, in particular religious values
creating a shared wind farm
Offshore wind farms represent a large—and growing—source of renewable energy.
Read more at Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/america-rsquo-s-first-commercial-offshore-wind-farm-goes-live/
individuals need not only a sense of urgency about the issue, but also confidence that solutions are possible
Very little research has been done specifically about the motivation to take political action about climate change. However, the few studies that have find results that are consistent with general motivation theories.
Specifically, people have to believe the outcome is important—in this case, a climate that supports human life.
The problem also has to seem solvable. If something can be done to improve the situation—in this case, if reducing greenhouse gasses will reduce climate change and its impacts—then people will be more likely to expend effort to do it.
Alignment with social identity is critical
Much of a person's identity, or sense of who she or he is, consists of their social connections (e.g., sibling) and roles (e.g., student). If a particular behavior threatens someone's identity as a member of a particular group, then she or he is likely to avoid it.
For instance, if someone identifies with a group of friends that likes to keep up with fashion and regularly shops together to buy the latest styles, it may be hard to speak out publicly about or lead efforts to reduce material consumption.
It takes even greater courage and perseverance to openly question the dominant worldview that forms the bedrock of cultural norms
This statement has two important pieces. First, it refers to the dominant worldview, which is the way most people in developed nations think about how the world works: The world has plenty of resources, we as individuals can use resources as we please, and science and technology can fix things if we mess them up.
Second, this statement refers to how difficult it is for people to say and do things that are different from what everyone else thinks and does. Recall that it was evolutionarily more adaptive to stick with the group than to venture out on one's own. Therefore, even when we learn that resources are limited and that technology often has unintended consequences for the planet, it is very hard to for us to speak up and challenge what other people are saying and doing.
most people gravitate toward private, individual behavior and avoid potentially uncomfortable public advocacy and action
Governments are not likely to take action on climate change unless citizens create public pressure to do so. Yet, public action about climate change has been relatively rare. Even when people know a lot about climate change and value a future free of negative consequences of a changing climate, they do not take public action. This inaction is often due to a belief that public actions won't make a difference.
transforming systems requires individuals to participate in public dialogue and activism
Many systems we rely on are inefficient or lead to consumptive behavior. For instance, most roads in the United States are designed exclusively for cars. To change road design so that it prioritizes buses, trains, bikes, and pedestrians requires that people show up and speak out at public hearings, city council meetings, and even demonstrations and protests that draw attention to issues.
inspiring them to participate in collective efforts to change the larger systems and infrastructure
Most of the psychological research on pro-environmental behavior focuses on personal-sphere behaviors such as recycling, composting, and whether you choose to take a bus or bike rather than drive a car to run errands. These are important individual choices, however, it means that individuals are constantly fighting against systems that make it easier to waste.
Instead, individuals must work with groups, businesses, and governments to change the systems themselves to make it easy to recycle, compost, and bike to run errands. More research needs to be conducted to understand the difference between motivation to change personal-sphere and public-sphere behaviors.
incremental improvements in systemic processes and infrastructure
City buildings are a large source of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable building designs that include use of natural light, alternative energy sources, and better insulation reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 30%.
one study estimated that just 90 businesses have generated 63% of the cumulative, global greenhouse gas emissions
Chevron and ExxonMobil, both United States–based companies, led the pack; each was responsible for over 3% of the global emissions between 1751–2010. The author of the study concluded that the largest emitters should take the lead in responding to climate change, including paying the costs for the poorest nations to adapt to the impacts.
urban structures built for living, working and playing
Structures such as sidewalks allow people to safely walk to school, shops, or grocery stores rather than drive a car.
A fact sheet from the U.S. Energy Information Administration lists all sources of United States energy and what percentage each comprises of total energy use.
Read more at EIA: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3
growing and transporting food
Jonathan Foley summarized the problems with our current food system—and the potential solutions—a few years ago.
Read more at National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/feeding-9-billion/
CBSM has been used to address sustainable behavior in communities
Students at Oberlin College used Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) to identify which behaviors to change, what the barriers and benefits were to students, and which interventions to plan.
Read more at Oberlin College & Conservatory Office of Environmental Sustainability: http://new.oberlin.edu/office/environmental-sustainability/programs/community-based-social-marketing/
few resources exist to guide practitioners about when and how to apply specific psychological tools
Quite a variety of tools can be employed to increase sustainable behavior. These include: education about the problem; prompts to help people remember; feedback about the effect of behavior changes; incentives to motivate people; creating social norms; and obtaining public commitments.
Which tools will prove most useful depends on how high or low the relative barriers and benefits are.
With a handful of exceptions (including this grid developed by Paul Wesley Schultz) there are few resources to help nonpsychologists decide which intervention matches their needs.
effectiveness of a particular tool varies widely depending on what, and whose, behavior is at stake
For instance, whether an activity such as taking public transit is considered challenging depends on if cost, comfort, and time are perceived as barriers or benefits. Two individuals with different thoughts—“I’ve already invested in a car and the bus ride takes too much time” versus “A bus pass is cheaper than owning a car and I gain time to read on the bus”—will respond differently to attempted interventions. Incentives such as a discounted bus pass and free wifi may entice people in the first case, whereas prompts may help people break old habits and build new ones in the second case.
Behavior-change interventions using social and behavioral science have been used successfully to encourage a range of behaviors, including water purification, energy use, and HIV testing.
Read more at the New York Times: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/peer-pressure-can-be-a-lifesaver/
creating incentives that increase the short-term rewards of a sustainable action
There are many different kinds of incentives, ranging from praise to pizza parties, that can be used to encourage sustainable behavior in workplaces.
framing information about an issue such as climate change to emphasize current and local impacts
Worldwatch Institute promotes research and outreach to "accelerate the transition to a sustainable world." In addition to monitoring the Earth's "vital signs," they post information about current impacts of climate change.
For instance, you can read about contemporary changes in the Rocky Mountains in World Watch Magazine: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6160
evolution favored cognitive efficiency
It is a myth that the human brain has unlimited capacity. Though our brains are amazing and powerful, they are also specialized and limited.
The world around us is filled with vast amounts of ever-changing data: colors, scents, movements, sizes, speeds—even the most powerful computer would have trouble keeping track of it all. The brain solves the problem of information overload by being very selective in how it allocates its mental resources. One channel of the brain, called "slow thinking" by Kahneman, is conscious and careful. The other channel, called "fast thinking," is very quick, efficient, and easy, but outside of conscious awareness and control. The fast channel gave early humans many advantages for survival because it responds so quickly and moves away from danger.
human brains privilege that which supports their pre-existing worldview
Political party has emerged as one of the most important determinants of worldview. All human beings have a tendency to seek out and prefer information that agrees with their worldview. Research shows that this contributes to the continuing partisan divide on climate change.
Carmichael, Brulle and Huxster found tentative support for the idea that the media functions like an echo chamber, reinforcing already-existing beliefs. When people listen to something about climate change that they disagree with, it doesn't seem to change their minds. But if they hear something about climate change that aligns with what they already think, their beliefs become strengthened.
Which norm exerts greater influence depends on their relative salience in a given situation
One study investigated littering in a parking garage. Flyers were placed on the car windshields, and researchers observed whether participants threw their flyer on the ground. One group of participants was observed when the garage floor was already littered with flyers; a second group encountered a clean floor when they returned to their car. Overall, people littered more in an already littered garage, especially if they saw someone else litter.
However, when the garage floor was clean, seeing someone else litter resulted in the least amount of littering—presumably because the litterer's behavior was more obviously wrong in a clean environment.
acceptance by the group meant access to shared resources and protection
Human ancestors lived in small groups and had few protections against risks such as predators and starvation. Working with group members who each contributed unique skills and knowledge made it possible to fight off aggressors and develop more reliable access to food. Being rejected by a group meant being on one's own, which substantially decreased chances of survival. The most successful ancestral humans learned strategies to help maintain group membership.
creates a conflict with these deep-seated needs as it implies that all is not well with the status quo
"System Justification Theory" is related to the "Just World Hypothesis" and helps explain why people avoid change. According to the theory, many people want to see our current social, economic, and political system as being fair and just. These systems provide our way of life; they are familiar and provide a sense of stability, certainty, and a measure of safety. Unfortunately, the way of life provided by the status quo also encourages a great deal of waste and environmental destruction. We unconsciously recognize this conflict, and so may be motivated to deny environmental problems because it is uncomfortable to face the idea that things need to change
need for safety and security
In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested that people are motivated to do things that will fulfill a variety of human needs. The most basic needs are physiological, such as the need to eat and sleep. We also have a need to feel safe, be loved, to feel competent, and to become our best selves (e.g., a good parent, a kind neighbor).
Though contemporary psychologists don't use Maslow's specific theory anymore, the idea that we engage in activities that fulfill basic needs is still a solid principle used to predict human motivation.
human well-being depends on feeling competent, socially connected, and free to make choices
Extensive research has identified why we are drawn to some activities and avoid others. We tend to demonstrate persistence, or "intrinsic motivation," when a task fulfills three needs: autonomy, which is the freedom to make choices; relatedness, which is a sense of being socially connected and accepted by others; and competence, which is the need to accomplish an action with grace and to achieve the desired outcome.
When the situation gives us freedom to engage in pro-environmental behaviors of our own choosing—behaviors that take advantage of our specific skills and abilities and provide a platform for engaging with others—we are likely to maintain long-term, intrinsic motivation.
a new behavior threatens psychological needs
Trying a new activity may threaten our sense of competence, if it is extremely difficult and requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. Because of the unique and complicated challenges associated with solving climate change and other complex environmental problems, it is imperative that people have opportunities to learn and practice new tasks and activities in order to develop competence.
opportunities for face-to-face communication
Direct dialogue with others can increase our sense of connection—and thus responsibility to—others. And though you may not automatically think about it, communicating can happen with other species when we pause to listen to the song of the birds, the wind rustling the leaves of a tree, or the skittle of squirrels along the fenceline.
strong social connections among community members
Garett Hardin's description of The Tragedy of the Commons focused on a group of farmers sharing a common grazing area. If the farmers care about each other's well-being, they're less likely to exploit the resource and thus harm their friends and neighbors.
Similarly, if humans felt more connected to each other, to other species, to people in other parts of the world, and to future generations, we might be less likely to keep acting from self-interest, and consider our responsibility to others' well-being.
contradiction between self-interested behavior and what is ultimately best for the larger group
In 1968, ecologist Garrett Hardin described The Tragedy of the Commons: A group of farmers graze their cows on a limited piece of common land. Each farmer will try to graze as many cows as possible, to maximize personal dairy and meat production. However, too many cows results in overgrazing, destroying the resource for the whole community—including each self-interested farmer.
Solving this "commons dilemma" requires cooperation between the farmers, and a sense of personal responsibility to the group's future.
explains why individuals are unwilling to surrender the convenience of a personal car or to spend money on energy efficiency measures that not only save money in the long run but also help curb greenhouse gas emissions
An important insight from evolutionary psychology is that all human beings carry with them certain inherited behavioral tendencies. One of these is a tendancy to be short-term thinkers.
According to Van Vugt, Grisckevicius, and Schultz (2014), early humans were more likely to survive if they focused on immediately available benefits rather than thinking about possible future needs. In contrast, solving complex environmental issues such as climate change requires reducing, or even eliminating, current fossil fuel–intensive behaviors (for example, commuting alone in a personal car) in order to ensure a healthy climate in the future.
long-term consequences are less motivating than consequences in the here and now
Most people are aware that burning fossil fuels for virtually all of our daily conveniences (driving our cars, heating and air-conditioning our homes, and using our computers) is causing climate change. We're also aware that this will likely cause serious problems. But those problems seem far off; we tell ourselves, "It's not going to affect me—or at least, it won't any time soon." Consequently, these long-term problems don't motivate us to give up the more immediate pleasures and conveniences we enjoy.
Humans evolved in a world where dangers were sudden and obvious, and thus our senses are ill-equipped to detect largely invisible and gradually worsening ecological problems such as climate change or species extinction.
Our ancestors mostly had to worry about being eaten by a larger animal or invading tribes looking to take over one's land. Such clear and present dangers could mostly be dealt with by fleeing (running away) or fighting—perhaps you've heard of the "fight or flight" response to stress.
When threats don't activate the alarm bells associated with visible, tangible, and personal threats, we have a harder time mobilizing a response.
Experiencing the self as separate from nature is the foundation of humanity’s damaged relationship to planetary resources
Before modern times, people lived in small groups, hunting and foraging for food. By necessity, they were very tuned in to their surroundings, and likely believed that other species were their neighbors and family.
Over the past couple of centuries, humans have become more and more disconnected from the natural world, treating it as something that exists for us—as resources to be used, abused, and discarded.
humans meet their needs and wants in ecologically disruptive ways
Human impact on the planet is often represented by how many people are living and what they are consuming (e.g. food, clothes, energy, cars, etc.).
Read more at Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131114193245.htm
humans are poorly equipped to coordinate behavior for common benefit
Our evolutionary heritage has caused human beings to put self-interest above the collective good. Van Vugt, Griskevicius, and Schulz say that this tendency to prioritize personal interest is part of a set of "stone age biases" in the human mind.
Under certain circumstances, human beings are able to overcome this bias and work together to preserve a resource for the common good. For large-scale, global problems like climate change or loss of biodiversity, it is much more difficult to get many individuals to cooperate and coordinate for problem-solving and resource conservation that benefits the collective.
A review by Dietz, Ostrom, and Stern summarizes adaptive tools that can be (and are being) employed for effective governance of global resources like oceans, clean freshwater, and the climate.
change their behavior even under the most compelling of circumstances
Many people will not change behavior until they experience a personal crisis, commonly known as "hitting bottom"—and even then, change is very difficult. Even smokers diagnosed with cancers and other serious diseases find it difficult to quit (see http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/23/10201507-many-keep-smoking-after-cancer-diagnosis?lite )
Lifestyles that can be maintained indefinitely, without adversely impacting others (human and nonhuman), including future generations.
human action to radically transform
Human beings throughout most of the world need to work together to dramatically change the way we meet our everyday needs for food, clean water, energy, shelter, and transportation.
Certain people, races, and social classes are valued more in some societies.
Everyone develops a worldview. Worldviews are implicit (i.e. unquestioned or undoubted) sets of assumptions and beliefs. We experience worldviews as just the way things are.
increase anti-environmental behavior
A review of prior work leads to a new way to frame research questions in Dickinson (2009). Within this proposed framework, the author points out that many people manage their anxiety about climate change by consuming; this could include going shopping, eating junk food, or gaming (i.e., using technology as a distraction). Though these activities may make us feel better in the short term, such actions don't help our situation—in fact, they make things worse.
routinely fly to vacation destinations, drive solo, and keep their homes at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22° Celsius)
These behaviors burn a lot of fossil fuel. Researchers put together a list of the most effective changes a household can make to reduce their fossil fuel consumption. Topping the list of high–fossil fuel consuming behaviors was driving solo and space heating in the home.
To read about the most effective changes a household can make, see the article in Environment Magazine: http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/September-October%202008/gardner-stern-full.html
nearly half of Americans are “concerned” or “alarmed” about global warming
A group of researchers at the Yale Center for Climate Communication found that 45% of Americans are "alarmed" or "concerned" about climate change; these are the individuals most likely to join actions such as contacting elected officials on the issue.
About a third of the survey respondents were in the middle of the scale, "cautious" or "disengaged;" these people haven't thought much about the issue or don't see it as having personal relevance.
The remaining 21% were labelled "doubtful" and "dismissive," as they are skeptical and tend to oppose acting on climate change.
human behavior is the root cause
Particularly in the United States and other industrialized countries, people tend to overconsume and waste resources. For example, although less than 5% of the world's population lives in the United States, its citizens use more than 20% of the world's oil supply. Scientists have developed the "ecological footprint" to measure the rate at which people use resources compared to how rapidly nature can replenish the resources.
You can calculate your "ecological footprint" at www.footprintnetwork.org
Human beings in industrialized nations are so disconnected from the natural systems they depend on
By some estimates, people in industrialized nations spend as much as 90% of their time indoors. This is also true for children, who tend to spend much more of their time using electronics than doing outdoor activities. In earlier times, people had to be outside and interacting with natural systems in order to meet their daily needs.
These daily interactions with nature and ecosystems gave human beings a much deeper knowledge of them. Today, it is possible in industrialized nations to meet all needs without ever stepping a foot outdoors; food comes from the grocery store, water comes from the tap, and energy comes from the flick of a switch. It is difficult to truly understand how nature works, and how it provides for human needs, if one never interacts with it.
Individuals—informal and formal leaders, decision makers, workers, volunteers, and members—are the underlying force
Change begins with an individual. But that is not enough. An individual needs to step forth with an idea for change and then others need to be the first followers. Social science researchers have developed a model for how new ideas turn into a social movement. It begins with an innovator, early adopters see the innovation and try it, then others see the early adopters and copy what they do. Eventually the remaining people join because they don't want to miss out.
J. Mistry, A. Berardi, Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science 352, 1274-1275 (2016)
This article discusses how Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has helped indigenous groups maintain the biodiversity of their land and adapt to climate change. It contrasts TEK with more traditional quantitative experiments and suggests that the two approaches to understanding ecosystems can benefit from each other.
S. Schein, A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership: The Hidden Power of Ecological Worldviews (Greenleaf, Sheffield, UK, 2015)
This book is the first to make the case that people who lead sustainability movements within organizations are most effective if they possess an ecologically accurate understanding of how the physical world works.
N. Geiger, J. K. Swim, Climate of silence: Pluralistic ignorance as a barrier to climate change discussion. J. Environ. Psychol. 47, 79-90 (2016)
This article is the first major publication to apply the well-known psychological phenomenon called "pluralistic ignorance" to discussions about climate change.
Pluralistic ignorance is when people believe, inaccurately, that the person they are talking to might disagree with them, and decide not to speak up.
In the case of climate change, most Americans believe that it is occuring and that it is caused by humans, yet this research shows that people fail to speak up about climate change, believing that the person they are talking to might deny climate change exists.
C. Roser-renouf, E. W. Maibach, A. Leiserowitz, X. Zhao, The genesis of climate change activism: From key beliefs to political action. Clim. Change 125, 163-178 (2014)
This article addresses why people take political action about climate change. Researchers found that people are motivated to act only if they believe that a group effort by humans can reverse the course of climate change. Then, in order to act, people must believe that political actions such as calling elected officials and speaking up at meetings will have an impact on the governmental policies that impact climate change.
A. M. Bliuc, C. McGarty, E. F. Thomas, G. Lala, M. Berndsen, R. Misajon, Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 226-230 (2015)
Bliuc and colleagues demonstrate that U.S. climate change worriers and skeptics hold very different social identities. These social identities have been formed around their opinion toward climate change (acceptance and concern vs. skepticism toward the science) rather than around demographic characteristics like religion or political party. The authors suggest that opinion about climate change has become a source of inter-group conflict similar to that surrounding the issues of abortion or same-sex marriage.
L. Tay, E. Diener, Needs and subjective well-being around the world. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 101, 354-365 (2011)
Psychologists have proposed for many years that human well-being increases when certain needs are fulfilled. Studies have explored basic physiogical needs, safety and security needs, social needs, and respect and autonomy needs. Little research, however, has examined whether these needs are common to all humans, or whether some of them are culture-specific.
Tay and Diener looked at the relationship between different kinds of needs and subjective well-being in 123 countries. They found evidence that all human beings share a variety of psychological and social needs in addition to basic needs.
T. Dietz, E. Ostrom, P. C. Stern, The struggle to govern the commons. Science 302, 1907-1912 (2003)
This classic Science article examines Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons scenario with respect to global environmental commons such as oceans, freshwater, clean air, and the climate and atmosphere.
Dietz, Ostrom, and Stern suggest that it is difficult to govern global environmental commons because many of the features of historically successful commons management are missing at the global scale. These features include limiting access to the resource, monitoring resource use, promoting frequent face-to-face contact between users, and enforcing rules dictating resource use.
When it comes to our global environmental commons, the authors are guardedly optimistic that we can implement effective forms of governance and not over-exploit global natural resources.
R. M. Ryan, E. L. Deci, Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am. Psychol. 55, 68–78 (2000). doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68
Self-determination theory suggests that people are most motivated by situations that help them fulfill basic needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
People need autonomy, to feel they have choices and are free to decide what, when, and how to proceed, rather than being forced by rules, deadlines, or evaluation by others. We seek relatedness, a sense of being socially connected and accepted by others. Competence is the need to accomplish an action with grace and achieve the desired outcome, as opposed feeling uninformed, or not having the requisite skills or abilities to achieve success.
R. Gifford, A. Nilsson, Personal and social factors that influence pro-environmental concern and behavior: A review. Int. J. Psychol. 49, 141-157 (2014)
This is a review article, organizing and summarizing what research has been conducted and suggests what future research should focus on.
Gifford and Nilsson review 18 factors that influence whether people behave in ways that help rather than hurt the environment. They organize the factors into two basic categories: personal and social.
The authors also recognize that people sometimes behave in pro-environmental ways because it is practical (such as saving money) and not because of these personal and social factors.
Research affirms that engaging with nature improves both mental and physical well-being
A substantial amount of recent research has examined how people react after being exposed to nature. Exposure ranges from seeing pictures of nature, the presence of plants and fresh air, to walking in nature. In some experimental projects participants are randomly assigned to walk along an urban path or a nature path. Results tend to show positive benefits such as being better able to pay attention or stress reduction.
can be found in urban areas as well
Humans who live in cities benefit from being able to interact with nature. Two different ways to accomplish this interaction include urban parks, and windows that can open to let in fresh air.
Read more at the University of Washington's UWToday: http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/06/03/finding-connections-to-nature-in-cities-is-key-to-healthy-urban-living/
Valuable nature experiences do not require trips to “wild” nature
Valuable nature experiences are those that help people understand that nature is integral to their lives. This helps people understand nature as something near and important rather than something far away that we might want to save if we have time and money.
Experiencing nature with others such as friends and family, can be valuable for building shared values for it, and for strengthening social bonds.
inspires efforts to protect and preserve landscapes and their inhabitants
Having a deep understanding of nature, and feeling a connection to it, leads to a sense of responsibility toward the natural world. We humans protect the things we know and care about.
Human beings have a huge capacity for empathy, and our efforts to protect nature often arise from feelings of empathy toward the animals that inhabit natural spaces. Zoos provide an important opportunity for people to learn about and feel a connection to wild animals.
relies heavily on experiential information
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is developed over long periods of time and passed along from generation to generation through oral teachings, demonstrations, stories, and rituals. People in indigenous cultures attend carefully to current weather, land, and water conditions and compare them to what is known about the long history of the local environment.
TEK tends to be based on qualitative observations and attention to complexity and change, instead of quantitative measurements and experimentation.
TEK has been related to effective environmental management strategies (e.g., controlling deforestation and maintaining biodiversity of ecosystems) and is increasingly being used to inform how environmental policy is developed.
they do not know what they do not know
Each generation of humans thinks that the natural environment they experience as children is normal. Over time, however, humans have degraded our environment so that what is now perceived as normal is not as rich and healthy as it used to be. This is called "environmental generational amnesia."
For instance, children who live in polluted cities may understand the problem of pollution in general, yet don't think their own air or water was polluted since they don't have any other experience for comparison.
educate the public about negative social influence and provide individuals with the psychological tools to act with moral courage
If people are aware of the power of social influence, they are better able to resist its negative influence. It can take a great deal of courage to resist social pressure; the first step in achieving that courage is to be able to identify situations where social influence, such as conformity, the bystander effect, or obedience, could lead to unethical or immoral consequences.
people in leadership roles are arguably best positioned to activate a major shift toward sustainability
Leaders draw power from being an expert, being liked, and being able to dole out rewards and punishments. The more power a person holds, the more able they are to "get away" with behavior that falls outside the norm. Therefore, leaders are better positioned to speak up about changing how an organization does things.
Learn more at National Public Radio's TED Radio Hour: http://www.npr.org/2017/04/07/522857511/adam-galinksy-what-drives-us-to-speak-up
founded an initiative
The Heroic Imagination Project applies findings from social psychology to help people overcome negative social influence and act positively in their everyday lives.
Read more at: http://heroicimagination.org/
Psychologists do not yet know why some are willing or able to take a bold stand for change in the same situations that drive others to support the status quo or to simply withdraw
One of the most consistent themes in research and theory about motivation is that we're more motivated to act when behavior is consistent with group norms and we think others will approve. So, what does it take to override this strong motivator?
Philip Zimbardo has spent his whole career studying people who are willing to strike out against what everyone else is doing. He has yet to discover an easy answer.
However, he has developed training programs to help people, especially kids, practice doing good things even when it is not what everyone else is doing. The point is to build a "thick skin" and not be afraid of rejection.
many religions elevate the value of humans over other beings
This observation was made in a 1967 Science article written by Lynn White, Jr. He specifically criticized Christianity for placing humans above ecosystems and encouraging environmental destruction.
A “green” organizational culture effectively relieves individuals from the effortful thinking required to recognize and respond in sustainable ways
Once people become familiar with the organization's values that define "how we do things around here," many everyday behaviors become automatic.
When people do not have to fight against cultural norms, they can freely share ideas without fear of rejection or losing others' respect.
When policies reflect "green" or sustainable values, then individuals do not have to decide between following the rules and following what they believe.
Pope Francis made a statement about humanity's moral responsibility to respond to climate change.
Read more at The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lloyd-steffen/religion-and-climate-change_b_8900316.html
Evidence suggests that political activism about conservation, like many behaviors, requires the belief that political action is necessary, influences others, and can actually change environmental outcomes
Psychologists have been studying motivation for many decades. The theories they develop can be very helpful for diagnosing why people are not motivated in some situations, but are motivated in others.
Common characteristics of motivation theories are:
- Valued outcomes. People have to desire the outcomes that are at stake.
- Self-efficacy. People have to believe they are able to accomplish the behavior at hand.
- Connection between actions and outcomes. People need to believe that the work they do will actually lead to the desired outcome.
people understand just how many others acknowledge its reality and are concerned about it
Most work on this topic is correlational, meaning we can't make conclusions about which variable is the cause and which is the effect. Geiger and Swim's research is some of the first experimental evidence that manipulating peoples' notions about the opinion of others changes their willingness to speak up about a controversial but important issue.
when individuals realize they are not alone in their beliefs about a contentious issue, they become willing to speak out
The internet is a powerful tool for finding people with similar views and interests. Thus it is potentially a helpful tool for helping people build up courage to speak out about issues they are concerned about, such as support for scientific research.
Read more at the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/science/march-for-science-washington-date.html
People tend to underestimate how many others share their opinion, which hampers willingness to be vocal
Psychologists call this "pluralistic ignorance." Research has found this same pattern of misunderstanding when it comes to many different kinds of opinions and attitudes. For instance, it occurs when people are asked about drinking on college campuses and about racial segregation. Although the vast majority reject excessive drinking and segregation, individuals underestimate how many others share those beliefs.
belief that others disagree about the issue
Social approval is a key feature to most theories about human motivation. Prior research shows that people keep from speaking up because they don't want to be disliked. Other studies have found that self-silencing is explained by the desire not to lose people's respect.
One study experimentally compared these two explanations, discovering that people seem to self-silence because they do not want to appear incompetent and lose the respect of others. Thus, in situations when others are likely to agree with us, this risk is reduced.
provide important insights for facilitating involvement in such systems-level change
New work attempts to synthesize ideas from a variety of social sciences including political science, psychology, and sociology, that converge on why people participate in collective action to make political change. Each social science has its own theories, assumptions, terminology, and methods for collecting data.
Four themes have been identified from these diverse disciplines that predict getting politically involved:
- individuals' identities, especially their group affiliations
- agency, or the belief that oneself or one's group will be able to make a difference through their activism
- values, and the desire to protect those values
These themes now need to be scientifically tested.
much broader impacts than will individual efforts
Individuals can make a difference by adjusting their lifestyles and their household behaviors; however, the impact of these changes tends to be small because they are limited to the options available through the systems around us. These systems, such as the way we grow food, the way we produce energy and goods, and our transportation system, tightly constrain and shape individual actions.
Global consumerism is resulting in an increasing demand for luxuries, which threatens human health and the environment.
Read more at National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/01/0111_040112_consumerism.html
five-step community-level approach that matches appropriate tools of change to the exact barriers, both physical and psychological, that inhibit a specific sustainable action
The five-step process of Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM):
- Identify and select environmentally high-impact behaviors to promote.
- Identify the perceived benefits of, and barriers to, action.
- Design interventions that effectively decrease barriers to the target behavior and/or increase the benefits of it.
- Try out the intervention on a small group first.
- Launch the program within the broader target community and evaluate its effectiveness.
Setting an example for others through one's own actions.
consensus of grave risk has grown in the scientific community
The public relies more on political affiliation and ideology than science on topics such as climate change.
Read more at Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/big-gap-between-what-scientists-say-and-americans-think-about-climate-change/
climate science data have accumulated
Climate change is no longer a distant, abstract threat. Scientists have clear and growing evidence that the earth is warming, and that it is caused by human behavior such as the burning of fossil fuels. Individuals all over the planet are also noticing the effects of climate change in the form of extreme storms and rainfall, floods, sea level rise, drought, heatwaves, and warmer winter temperatures.
Climate change is not only causing strange weather. Scientists have recorded alterations in different organisms that they trace to climate change. For example, some plants are budding and flowering earlier in the spring, and some animals have changed in average size.
Explore more of this accumulated evidence in Science: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6313/aaf7671.full
followers of conservative parties showing far lower concern for the issue than supporters of liberal parties
A survey conducted in 2015 found that, in the United States, 68% of Democrats but only 20% of Republicans agreed that climate change "is a very serious problem."
A similar pattern was found in Germany, Australia, and Canada. In each of these countries, members of left-of-center parties were more likely to agree that "climate change will harm me personally" than members of right-of-center (or conservative) parties.
evident in the anger and antipathy between those who embrace the scientific consensus on climate change and its skeptics
Researchers looked at the differences between groups of climate change "believers" and climate change "skeptics." They suggest that opinion on climate change has become a strong group affiliation marker, such that individuals think of others as part of their in-group if they hold the same opinion of climate change. In addition, part of the in-group identity of climate change skeptics is anger toward climate change believers.
Whether particular social norms are relevant to an individual depends on that person’s group affiliations
Social norms only exist if they are shared with others, and they are most easily shared and communicated among groups of individuals who hold a common identity. This means that if you consider yourself an environmentalist, you will pay attention to what other environmentalists do and approve of. On the other hand, those who absolutely do not consider themselves environmentalists are unlikely to behave according to environmentalist-specific norms, even if those norms are obvious and clear.
intense feelings of discomfort, embarrassment, or shame
People generally like to fit in with their social groups. Doing something out of the norm, or that we think respected others will disapprove of, is very uncomfortable.
strong emotional reactions to threats of rejection
Social exclusion causes physiological reactions in the brain and body that are similar to the pain experienced from a physical injury. Psychologists consider this biological, visceral response to be indicative of an innate need for social connection and inclusion.
Read more at the American Psychological Association Monitor: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/rejection.aspx
Concerns about social inclusion are undoubtedly rooted in the evolutionary past
When we hear about evolution by natural selection, we tend to think of morphological features (such as opposable thumbs). But in a similar vein, psychological tendencies (such as the desire to be part of a group) have often passed from generation to generation because they have allowed us to successfully adapt to our environment. Because of their deep roots in our brain development, these psychological traits are very hard for us to modify.
individuals greatly underestimate the extent to which their behavior is subject to social influence
Many of the actions we take and the decisions we make are heavily influenced by social norms and social signals from others around us, but we rarely recognize this. Instead, we believe that we are independent-minded and not susceptible to what other people approve of and do. If you think about it, however, you probably recognize times you have done something because you felt social pressure. Social influence often leads us to do things we later regret.
In his book Influence, Cialdini describes scenarios where people fall prey to social influence without realizing it.
especially if they have little hope that action will make a difference
The most impactful messages about climate change present realistic information about the threat combined with suggestions for what individuals can do to effectively combat it.
Claiming that anxiety-producing information is false. For instance, "climate change deniers."
Dire environmental news
More frequent and intense storms resulting from climate change create hazards like floods and landslides. These extreme events affect topsoil in the landscape and quality of watersheds.
Read more at Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcasts/
a desire to see the world as a stable and just place
"You get what you deserve" is an example of a belief associated with the "Just-World Hypothesis" (sometimes known as the Just-World Theory). People want to believe that there is an underlying morality or fairness in the universe; information that contradicts that belief can cause discomfort or denial.
can at first be intimidating, making individuals feel uncertain, incompetent, or fearful of others’ disapproval or rejection
We all have a need to feel competent. Trying something new can be discouraging when we haven't seen others doing it, we haven't learned how to do it in school, or we think others won't approve of the activity. It is common for people to resist trying these new behaviors until they develop the appropriate skills and feel socially comfortable.
Read more at The Chicago Tribune:[http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/home/sc-cons-0710-finds-20140710-story.html]
effectively missing in large-scale environmental commons dilemmas such as global climate change
The "social dilemma" of global climate change results from millions of people acting from self-interest: driving cars, flying to vacation destinations, and eating meat (the production of which creates methane, a very potent greenhouse gas). It is hard for people to give up such luxuries, especially when it isn't clear that doing so would solve the problem, or benefit them and their loved ones in the long run.
Can you think of ways to encourage people to feel more personally responsible for longer-term, group benefit?
Without a tangible sensory signal and attendant emotional jolt, these problems feel psychologically distant and do little to move us to action
Just like the fable of the frog who will jump out of a pot of very hot water if suddenly thrown in, but who will allow itself to be boiled to death if placed in a very slowly heating pot, people are not built to notice slowly developing problems like a changing climate.
humans’ ancient origins
Ancient human societies developed for a variety of reasons like safety and food security. Some emerging anthropological evidence suggests that early humans also needed each others' help with challenges such as childrearing, lending support for the proverb "it takes a village to raise a child."
Read more at National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/10/132745952/big-babies-helped-shape-early-human-societies
significant positive correlation between feeling connected to nature and ecologically responsible behavior
In one study of undergraduates in Eugene, Oregon, differences in "environmental attitude" and "connectedness to nature" accounted for 36% of the variance in students' "environmental behavior," and these two factors were significantly positively correlated with sustainable behavior. Interestingly, personality differences accounted for very little of the differences in the student behavior.
When people have positive feelings and thoughts toward the natural world (e.g., other animals, forests, coastlines), they typically also have a sense of moral obligation to protect these beloved creatures and places. Such people are less likely to litter, more likely to recycle, and typically use fewer resources.
evolutionary origins of human behavior
Evolutionary psychology focuses on how the human brain and behavior have adapted to environmental conditions. The benefit of this approach to psychology is setting up logical predictions based on what would be most adaptive for humans. Researchers can then test these predictions.
Read more at Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/in-defense-of-evolutionary-psycholo-09-08-26/
kind of urgency that motivates individuals to act
Humans are predisposed to respond to threats that are intentional, personal, and happening here and now.
systems that encourage, support, and reinforce overly consumptive, wasteful, and polluting lifestyles
Neighborhoods are an example of complex systems that help us live, travel, work, and play. Suburbs built after World War II tend to be designed around the use of cars. For instance, building homes that are far away from commercial districts containing offices, retail, and entertainment encourages more driving. These systems also include large, single-family homes which use more energy to heat and cool.
Read more at Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/location-location-lifestyle-determines-global-warming-pollution/
Human-focused (as opposed to considering the entire ecosystem).
Path, course, route.
unprecedented scale and escalating rate
Humans are rapidly approaching planetary limits in carrying capacity, which is the maximum number of organisms that can be supported indefinitely without environmental destruction and depletion of resources. Human industrial development has involved unprecedented large-scale exploitation of nature and disruption of ecological systems.
Unfortunately, modern technologies have a destructive potential far deeper and broader than anything that preceded them. Some scholars even propose the designation of a new geologic era, the “Anthropocene,” to signify the scale at which human activity is altering the planet.
Humans are driven by external circumstances
Human beings respond to the environment around them as all other biological organisms do. At the most basic level, danger or discomfort makes individuals take protective action, and an appealing or comfortable opportunity causes them to move in a new direction.
Community-Based Social Marketing, a method for promoting sustainable behaviors, recognizes the power of external circumstances and recommends identifying and eliminating the barriers that make it more difficult or uncomfortable to engage in pro-environmental action.
behavior-change campaigns focused solely on values, emotions, or knowledge are destined to fail
McKenzie-Mohr developed his approach to behavior-change, called Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM), after observing the consistent failure of information-based campaigns targeting values, emotions, and knowledge.
CBSM is described in more detail further on in the article.
Internal factors such as emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and values influence behavior to some extent
The list of factors that influence pro-environmental behavior is long, and includes many internal variables, such as values and beliefs. Research that looks exclusively at these internal variables, however, explains only a small amount of the behavioral differences between individuals, as noted in a study by Bamberg and Möser. Other factors, such as the social context or the immediate situation, strongly influence an individual's action.
Roughly one-half of Americans admit to using "retail therapy" to manage anxiety.
Read more in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simple-thrifty-living/can-shopping-help-anxiety_b_5936748.html
soothe their anxiety
The term "eco-anxiety" was coined to describe the stress associated with learning and worrying about climate change and other environmental issues. Potential solutions include cognitive behavioral therapy and connecting with nature.
Read more at: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/stories/eco-anxiety
messages about predicted environmental catastrophes
More and more frequently, daily news describes emerging evidence of how Earth's systems are rapidly changing. These changes in weather events and resource shortages are on such a large and overwhelming scale that humans will have a hard time adjusting to their consequences.
Here are a few examples:
The Guardian reports catastrophic consequences of Arctic ice melting: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/25/arctic-ice-melt-trigger-uncontrollable-climate-change-global-level
NBC News covers the ramifications of a global drought: http://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/global-drought-threatens-water-food-supplies-get-used-it-n196841
not new activities for our species
Environmental damage has occurred throughout human history; humans have caused geographically isolated species extinctions and resource declines all over the world for centuries.
The collapse of the human society of Easter Island is one example. During the course of just a few centuries, inhabitants utilized all of their once-abundant trees in an effort to move giant effigies to the waterfront. Their diets suffered as did their ability to stay warm and cook food. Their Polynesian paradise has not yet recovered, remaining a land of scrub brush and hardship.
ecological systems upon which humans rely for life support are in crisis
What comes to mind when you think of ecological crises? Perhaps you think of air and water pollution, species extinctions, or global climate change.
Read more about the planet's "vital signs" at http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org/
fosters understanding of the natural environment
Even for those who have had little experience in nature as children, it is possible to develop a better understanding of, and connection to, nature. For adults, a deeper understanding of nature does not seem to happen automatically, however. It takes attention and awareness.
applied, inquiry-based educational programs
A small but growing group of studies have examined the impact of hands-on experiences outside such as pond restoration and urban gardening. Results show that these types of environmental education programs positively impact what students know about the environment, how they feel about it, whether they notice nature around them even in urban environments, and self-confidence.
situational contexts that guide actions and decisions
Features of the immediate situation make certain behaviors more or less likely.
For example, moving the fruits and vegetables to the front of the cafeteria line results in children taking (and eating) more of these healthier options. When fruits and vegetables are offered after other, less healthy, foods, people take them less often. This small change in the situational context has significant consequences for the food choices people make.
can shift attention away from ideological differences to focus on tangible community-level action
People with different identities and beliefs, and even those who don't like each other, can be enticed to cooperate if they believe they depend on each other for success. These kinds of shared goals that inspire cooperation are what psychologists call "superordinate goals."
Informal social collectives are groups of people that form because of shared interests, preferences, or physical proximity. For instance, people in a neighborhood don't necessarily know anyone when they move in and they are not obligated to interact. Yet, they may join together with other neighbors to solve a neighborhood-level problem or to socialize.
The increasing trend toward city-living, as compared to living in smaller communities or having a rural lifestyle.
fear of appearing biased or incompetent
If someone appears biased or incompetent, this sends a signal to others that they are probably not reliable. Because early humans depended on others for their survival, they paid careful attention to how they were perceived by others. Modern humans retain this social sensitivity; most individuals are careful to display positive traits to others so that they are perceived positively.
fear of rejection
For early humans, rejection by others meant that the group might withdraw its support, leading to almost certain death.
perpetuating or redirecting situational forces
Each of us can choose to either support (perpetuate) or change (redirect) unsustainable social contexts (situational forces).
Social scientists are developing psychologically-informed strategies to overcome barriers and encourage pro-environmental behavior
One of the best known behavior change strategies is Community-Based Social Marketing, created by social psychologist Doug McKenzie-Mohr.
it appears that those with the highest science literacy may exhibit more ideology-based bias than others, because their familiarity with science makes them better equipped to find supporting evidence for their preconceived view
Kahan and his colleagues found an unexpected result that supports the idea of biased thinking. They looked at individuals with strong skepticism about the reality of climate change and individuals with strong concern about climate change. In both groups, it was those with the highest ability to understand math and science who were also the most firm in their beliefs. Kahan and his colleagues suggest these individuals used their science skill to seek out evidence that best supported their pre-existing worldview. They were making mental effort, but it was biased toward their prior beliefs.
Cues about how to behave. Cues can be provided by the way buildings are designed, sets of rules, and social feedback. People pay attention to cues about how they should behave in order to avoid negative consequences such as making mistakes and being laughed at.
promotes healthy child development
Freeform physical play in natural settings helps children to develop better motor skills. Playing in nature also inspires creativity and imaginative play, which has been linked to important life skills such as cooperation and problem-solving.
people only join efforts if they believe that their individual contributions can make a difference
A critical part of many motivation theories, people have to believe that their efforts are connected to the outcomes they are concerned about. Otherwise, they feel like their effort will be wasted.
how to activate ecologically-compatible engagement, especially leadership, for the collective work needed to become more sustainable
There is very little published research about how to help organizational leaders (CEOs, religious clergy, elected officials) understand the importance of their role in creating sustainable systems.
Additionally, with just a few exceptions, most research about developing a realistic understanding of the earth's systems is aimed at children. For adults there is an additional challenge of having to unlearn assumptions that are deeply embedded in the way they think about the world.
Since working toward sustainability of large systems, including organizations, will lead to faster and more expansive change, more research needs to be done on how to effectively increase the knowledge and motivation of these leaders.
The way that different options are presented to someone making a choice.
psychologists need to move beyond targeting individuals’ private sphere choices, and focus on how to foster collective action
The environmental degradation we face is much larger than what individual change can effectively address. To solve issues such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and other global environmental issues, we must change the larger systems that meet our needs for energy, food, water, transportation, and goods. These systems are not going to change on their own; instead, it will take the efforts of many, many people working together to demand change and to be persistent in those demands.
reset the perceived social norm around a pro-environmental behavior
If many people are seen performing a new behavior, it will become the new norm.
It is difficult to escape bias, even when exerting conscious mental effort
Because bias is unconscious, we have a hard time knowing when and how it is influencing thinking. Though we may believe we are objective, rational thinkers, our already-existing ideas act as an unconscious filter and influence how we interpret all new ideas.
Conforming to norms promoting sustainable behavior may actually feel threatening to individuals whose identity is perceived to be at odds with being “green.”
One's identity and social group affiliations appear to be among the most important determinants of whether a person takes pro-environmental action. If an individual does not identify as someone who cares about the environment, then it feels very uncomfortable and awkward to take actions typical of environmentalists. In addition, if one's social group does not express environmental concern, then taking environmental action in front of them can feel very risky as they may notice and express disapproval.
formal social collectives
Formal social collectives are groups of people who have an official purpose. Businesses, religious groups (e.g, parishes, synagogues, mosques, sangas, etc.), governmental bodies, and schools are examples of formal social collectives. This can be used interchangeably with "formal organizations."
Formal organizations are groups of people who have an official purpose. Businesses, religious groups (e.g, parishes, synagogues, mosques, sangas, etc.), governmental bodies, and schools are examples of formal organizations.
Groups of people who share a physical space, such as a neighborhood.
The Natural Step
The Natural Step is a process that helps organizations of people, ranging from businesses to communities, plan environmentally sustainable policies and practices.
The large physical systems that communities develop to manage shared resources such as energy creation and delivery, water purification and delivery, communication (e.g., fiberoptics), sewage and waste collection, and transportation (e.g., roads, bridges, subways, trains).
Human thinking is not neutral and unbiased; instead, the brain looks for information and makes judgements consistent with already-existing beliefs.
Things that the human brain cannot do well.
Professionals who design plans for land use in cities and towns.
the fundamental assumptions that drive organizations reflect the broader worldview of the larger culture
Social scientists call the most prominent worldview in any culture the "Dominant Social Paradigm." In Western-industrial cultures the Dominant Social Paradigm includes assumptions like:
- economic growth is always good (and always possible),
- human beings should use natural resources however we can for our benefit,
- individuals have the right to develop land for the purpose of accumulating personal profit, and
- science and technology will solve any problems that may arise as a result of our activities.
ecologically-consistent organizational learning
Learning organizations have cultures that support change. In these type of organizations, members are continuously encouraged to learn and try new things. These kinds of organizations are flexible and dynamic, and thus well-equipped to change and adjust to new circumstances.
The Natural Step is just one of several programs that help learning organizations adapt specifically to the new ecological realities of our planet, such as limited resources.
People can learn about how large systems work through guidance provided by someone with experience. In indigenous cultures, elders mentor younger generations, providing historical context and teaching methods for gathering information and interpreting it.
need for social connection is perhaps the most influential of all
Whether we are aware of it or not, humans are constantly “reading” social settings to determine appropriate language, manner, gestures, and other behaviors. We learn a lot about how to behave by watching and imitating what others do. In fact, modeling by others is a primary influence on behavior, especially when situations are unfamiliar or ambiguous.
Decades of research on social influence show that the pressure to conform to a group, to behave as others behave, can feel very strong. People feel compelled to do as others do because they don’t want to stand out as being different.
When ordinary people, rather than elected or appointed leaders, start activities and projects to solve local problems.
Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM)
Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) programs have been applied around the world to change behaviors that are most environmentally impactful: agricultural practices, transportation, home energy use, water use, overall resource consumption and waste, and toxic chemical production and use.
Techniques for creating buildings that reflect the natural habitat in which humans evolved. Buildings can directly use nature in their design (e.g., using walls of vegetation) or are built with natural materials. More commonly, biophilic design uses textures, shapes, and forms that mimic the natural environment.
The assumption that over time an economy has the capacity to produce more goods and services per person.
T. Hartig, P. H. Kahn Jr., Living in cities, naturally. Science 19, 938-940 (2016)
This article reviews how important it is for humans to maintain a connection with nature, especially when living in city environments. Research shows that our emotional and physical health improves when we engage with nature. There are many natural features that can be added to streets and buildings to facilitate keeping connected with nature including urban rivers, parks for play, and rooftop gardens.
People with historical roots to a geographical area. Often used to refer to the people who originally occupied land.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is the body of knowlege acquired by indigenous people over the course of hundreds of years by paying close attention to the natural environment around them.
For more information see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet: https://www.fws.gov/nativeamerican/pdf/tek-fact-sheet.pdf
Reduce; lessen in severity.
humans must experience and better understand their profound interdependence with the planet
When humans do not interact directly with the natural world it is hard to know that we completely depend on it to live. For instance, when we buy food at the supermarket, we may not think about where that food was grown, how long it took to grow, and what kind of soil and weather conditions were required. We may not think about how drought and changes in climate are likely to change the food that is available to us. A direct experience with nature such as caring for some food plants helps us understand how long it takes and how challenging it is to grow what we need to eat.
- Mar 2017
psychological “dragons of inaction”
Gifford (2011) identified several barriers that interfere with acting on climate change, including: thinking biases and limitations; social norms that promote problematic behaviors; habits; uncertainty about what to do about the problems; feeling like one's actions don't matter; and distrust of experts and authorities.
A mental shortcut.
Those we like or admire.
Behaviors that are generally approved of by others.
Descriptive norms are typical behaviors; what most people do.
Shifting attention to activities that are less stressful, such as changing the channel when disturbing news comes on.
people turn to coping defenses
You've probably heard of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. Freud believed that people defend themselves against uncomfortable emotions like anxiety with "defense mechanisms." This is an unconscious process that helps us to continue functioning in the face of troubling emotions.