Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Back to the Psychology of Change, Habit, Global Warming

By Paul K. Haeder

We’ll let Galileo and Darwin have center stage – read the blog below. However, it is compelling that the American Psychological Association will have out early this fall a booklet on the psychological barriers humans have to accepting, understanding, and discussing Climate Change. The APA has written a 230-page report (see below pdf) on what it is that causes people to reject understanding and accepting, with some amount of common sense and ease of cognition the realities of climate change and the Sixth Mass Extinction.

It’s a psychological conundrum that Darwin faced -- rejection and doubt -- as did Galileo. Too many thousands of scientists and thinkers in the past have faced anti-intellectualism, and today with this huge growth in web sites that look and sound legit and a media that cover aberrations in any theory or argument, independent scientists face a fellow citizenry and other power bases who have become and more more less inclined to read, think and go outside the consumer-driven box to make sense of the world. It takes discipline to read up, study, and process many of the scientific processes associated with Climate Change and Natural History.
Here're the stats on US reading habits:
* 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
* 42% of college graduates never read another book.
* 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
* 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
* 57% of new books are not read to completion.
* Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.
Here are the stages of climate change inertia proposed by psychology:

Uncertainty -- uncertainty over climate change reduces the frequency of "green" behavior.
Mistrust -- most people don't believe the risk messages of scientists or government officials.
Denial -- a huge percentage of people believe climate change is not occurring or that human activity has little or nothing to do with it, according to various polls.
Undervaluing Risks -- A study of more than 3,000 people in 18 countries showed that many people believe environmental conditions will worsen in 25 years. So, is it a “not around my historical corner" way of thinking? That changes can be made later, so why worry now?
Lack of Control -- Ahh, this is the debate about individual choice and individual action. Can making one less car trip daily do much? Stop eating dairy and meat for one day a week? Well, people have been trained to not understand numbers and the sheer force of collective action, collective IQ.
Habit – This is a human curse because ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change while others change slowly. Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior. And, consumer-driven choices and habits are the toughest for people to break.
So, we will discuss this huge APA report that covers the six basic questions below. It’s an important study, the psychology of climate change:

Section 1: How do people understand the risks imposed by climate change?
Section 2: What are the human behavioral contributions to climate change and the psychological and contextual drivers of these contributions?
Section 3: What are the psychosocial impacts of climate change?
Section 4: How do people adapt to and cope with the perceived threat and unfolding impacts of climate change?
Section 5: Which psychological barriers limit climate change action?
Section 6: How can psychologists assist in limiting climate change?


  1. Wow - those facts on reading are astonishing - astonishingly sad. Thanks for doing this climate change homework. I'm in the process of honing up on attitudes on climate change, and this helps a great deal.

  2. Hey, Bart, any comments from Down to Earth are appreciated. I think we need to be part of a summit on climate change, media messaging, narrative framing, the psychology of climate change, community development and sustainability. Whoops, that's my EWU MURP thesis I am about to send to my advisor who is in China now. I think the Commuity Building FOundation and others in the business community need to be part of this summit. Take about $5000 to $7000 to get people here, record it, come out with a white paper, etc. What you think?

  3. An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

    Karim - Creating Power


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