Environmental Psychology: Motivating behaviour change and coping with the fear of climate change

A new environmental psychology study released in December concludes that the most effective programs to encourage climate-friendly behaviour such as reducing energy consumption are those in which financial incentives (rebates, or cheaper prices) are paired with appeals to personal identity and values.  The authors of  Social Mobilization: How to Encourage Action on Climate Change  review  four decades of  psychological research and find  strong empirical support for employing a number of strategies : providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (e.g. pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback,  and using a variety of other social influence strategies .  This report highlights several successful large-scale programs as models – mostly by utility companies in the United States .  The study was financed and published by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), University of Victoria.  A related, longer report by one of the authors, Reuven Sussman, was  published in October 2016 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  Behavior change programs: Status and impact  is here  (registration required, free).

Another recent study of found that the moral values of compassion and fairness influenced an individual’s willingness to take personal action to mitigate the effects of climate change.  The authors, from Cornell University, showed that participants who were younger, more liberal, and reported greater belief in climate change, also showed increased willingness to act on climate change.  Ingroup loyalty and authority were not supported as important predictor variables. However, the authors state  :   “Our finding that willingness to take action on climate change was related to moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives suggests that it is too simplistic to use political ideology alone to predict support for climate change action. ”  The full article, “Which Moral Foundations Predict Willingness to Make Lifestyle Changes to Avert Climate Change in the USA?”  appeared in  PLOSOne in October 2016, and was summarized by the Huffington Post in “ Why some people take action on climate change – and others don’t” (November).

Environmental psychology is also turning attention to the growing mental health issues caused by climate change.  The  first-ever International Conference on Building Personal and Psychosocial Resilience for Climate Change was held on November 3-4, 2016 in Washington D.C.  .  Climate Progress reports on the conference  in  “How to stay sane in the face of climate change” ,   and quotes psychiatrist Lise van Susteren: “before people let their fear turn to hopelessness …  it’s critical to tell them that there are actionable things they can do, in their everyday life …. — measuring your own carbon footprint, putting solar panels on your own home, or paying for carbon offsets to counteract your own travel — can help a person take their fear and transfer that energy into positive action.  And that in turn can help mitigate the mental trauma of the reality of climate change.”   Climate Progress also quotes consultant Bob Doppelt, who told the conference  “Psychological traumas of more frequent storms, floods, and fires associated with climate change, as well as toxic stresses — long term heat waves and droughts, food shortages, involuntary migration, loss of community and breakdown of culture — are eroding personal protective systems, amplifying preexisting mental health problems and creating new mental health issues.” Doppelt has recently published Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing .

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