The Psychology of Environmentalism

In the April 2011 edition of Time magazine, is a fascinating article titled, ‘The Psychology of Environmentalism: How the Mind Can Save the Planet‘, by Jeffrey Kluger.

Kluger is quick to point out that every scientific discipline has had something to say about climate change in recent years, but the field of psychology really hasn’t had a look in. Up until now… a recent edition of the ‘American Psychologist’ is mostly devoted to psychological analysis of how we have been, “heedless with our world — and could be harnessed to help us take better care of it”.

Kluger’s article highlights how guilt, despair, doubt, grief and anger have come into play when talking about climate change. Analysis in the ‘American Psychologist’ argues that it important it is to acknowledge these feelings but still tap into people’s emotional core to create empowerment and therefore behaviour change.
In fact, despair is one of the most pervasive reactions to the enormity of the climate change crisis — and one of the most dangerous ones too. As Kluger highlights, “People who have truly given up believing that there’s any solution to a problem also quit doing anything about it. If you’re in the market for a new car, why not just buy a Hummer since the planet is going to hell anyway?”.
Some may argue that it is the failing of both governments and the ‘environmental movement’ to address this kind of thinking and help prevent it earlier.

Kluger speaks about ‘denial’, that powerful driver of human behaviour. For example, “Norway, which consistently tops global lists for enlightened policies concerning education, health care, social welfare and more is incongruously near the bottom in accepting the role humans play in causing climate change. Why? Because oil production and sales are central to Norway’s prosperity”.
Australia’s reliance on coal exports could be used as another example of this type of ‘denial’. The better you understand denial and the ‘deniers’, the easier it will be to help create behaviour change in society.

Another part of Kluger’s article that might be of interest is the discussion about ‘convenience’ and habits of consumption, that is, “what we merely want quickly become ones we believe we need”. A great example of this is when microwaves were first introduced in America in the 1970s few people bothered to buy one. Even by 1996, only 32% of Americans described microwaves as a necessity, though more than 32% actually owned them. By 2006, that necessity figure had leapt to 68%. As Kluger states, “A lot more people could have been persuaded to go microwave-free in the 1990s than today – something that would have been good to know at the time”.

Consumption is a huge contributor to climate change and powerful machine in society. How many times have you heard people argue that their carbon footprint cannot be reduced because of their reliance on ‘stuff’?

Shifting behaviour change and perspectives about climate change is a huge challenge. One can only hope that psychologists both in America and Australia choose to play a greater role in saving Earth by helping ‘the mind save the planet’.

Read Jeffrey Kluger’s full article at:

~ Kirsty Costa, CERES SEOG team

By CERES Education – Outreach Team| 2017-11-06T17:24:09+00:00 April 30th, 2013|Uncategorised|0 Comments