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 .

Setting the record straight on Economic Analysis of Energy Efficiency Programs

On April 16, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released a White Paper, Critiques of Energy Efficiency Policies and Programs: Some Truth But Also Substantial Mistakes and Bias . The paper examines recent U.S. studies of energy efficiency programs , “ … pointing out  a variety of recurring mistakes, such as misunderstanding the programs and markets they are examining or unreasonably extrapolating their findings to areas they did not study.”  The accompanying blog provides additional links and highlights a new study about Ontario,  by the Fraser Institute.  Demand-side Mismanagement: How Conservation became Waste  examines energy conservation programs in Ontario and concludes that they have not saved money for consumers, but according to the ACEEE , “Their conclusion is not based on data from Ontario, but cites previous critical studies of other programs, in particular a controversial study from 1992. Their analysis ignores or downplays other more recent studies that found much lower costs.”

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy  also launched a new website in April, providing detailed energy efficiency metrics for the United States , as well as overview measures for the international community , including Canada.

New Workforce Certification Guidelines for U.S. Commercial Building Occupations

The National Institute of Building Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy have developed voluntary national guidelines to improve the quality and consistency of commercial building workforce credentials. The Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines     were introduced  in March  2015 and cover four energy-related occupations: Energy Auditor, Building Commissioning Professional, Energy Manager, and Building Operations Professional.   See the press release here.

Ontario Updates its Long-Term Energy Plan

On December 2, the Ontario government waded into the highly-politicized and controversial field of energy in the province, with the release of Achieving Balance, its updated long-term energy plan which emphasizes energy conservation, maintains the policy of ending coal-generated electricity, and holds the line on investment in new nuclear power facilities. The plan acknowledges Ontario’s reduced energy demands and sets a target of about half of Ontario’s installed generating capacity to come from renewable sources by 2025. See the Ontario government news release, with links to supporting backgrounders at: http://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2013/12/ontario-releases-long-term-energy-plan-1.html

The Plan, Achieving Balance is at: http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/docs/LTEP_2013_English_WEB.pdf

A series of Backgrounders focusing on topics such as Conservation initiatives at:
http://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2013/12/conservation-and-demand-management.html, First Nations and Metis initiatives at: http://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2013/12/first-nation-and-metis-communities.html, and Northwestern Ontario programs (to support mining projects and First Nations) at:   http://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2013/12/meeting-northwestern-ontarios-energy-needs.html.

Reaction from Environmental Defence is at: http://environmentaldefence.ca/articles/statement-gillian-mceachern-environmental-defence-regarding-ontario%E2%80%99s-new-long-term-energy-; From the Pembina Institute at: http://www.pembina.org/media-release/2508, and from the Society of Energy Professionals at: http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1272509/long-term-energy-plan-is-low-voltage-say-energy-professionals: “The Society of Energy Professionals supports the government’s decisions to continue with plans for nuclear refurbishment at Darlington and Bruce Power, maintain Pickering until 2020, and move forward with the conversion of the Thunder Bay Generating Station from coal to advanced biomass.”

Energy Conservation Can Deliver Jobs in Ontario

morejobsIn a report released on August 22, BlueGreen Canada calls on the Ontario government to cut energy use by 25 per cent by 2025 (“25 by 25”). According to the economic analysis commissioned by BlueGreen and conducted by Stokes Economic Consulting, reducing consumption by 25% would result in 25,000 new jobs, $3.7 billion more in GDP, lower deficits for both the federal and provincial governments, and a 9% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. BlueGreen Canada states that a more aggressive conservation approach is supported by environmental groups, and by Enbridge and Union Gas companies, and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
The release of the BlueGreen report coincides with a formal review of the provincial government’s long term energy plan, begun in July, with the results promised by Fall 2013. In announcing the review, Energy Minister Chiarelli wrote: “this government believes conservation must play a more prominent role in our energy planning. Conservation is the most efficient way to help ratepayers reduce their costs.”
A related report released by Pembina Institute on September 13, Renewable is Doable, shows that past forecasts have overestimated Ontario’s demand for electricity, resulting in plans for more unnecessary nuclear reactors. The authors argue that investing in conservation and green energy options is a more cost-effective way to meet Ontario’s energy needs.


More Jobs, Less Pollution: Why Energy Conservation is Common Sense for Ontario is available on the BlueGreen Canada website at: http://www.bluegreencanada.ca/sites/default/files/resources/BLUEgreen_engRPT-FINAL-web.pdf

The Economic Impacts of Reducing Natural Gas and Electricity Use in Ontario (Supporting Economic Analysis report by Stokes Economic Consulting) is available at:  http://www.bluegreencanada.ca/sites/default/files/Energy%20Efficiency%20Impact%20Study.pdf

Ontario government Long term Energy Plan Review website is at: http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/ltep/; the Minister’s remarks are at: http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/ltep/making-choices/#conservation

Renewable is Doable: Affordable and Flexible Options for Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan is at: http://www.pembina.org/pub/2479