Nav: Home

What psychological science can offer to reducing climate change

July 17, 2018

For some years, there is a good deal of consensus among scientific experts that climate change is real, and that it is caused by human behavior. The consequences of climate change are immense, and believed by many experts to be largely irreversible (and exponential), causing threats coming from heat waves, flooding, declines in agriculture, and decreasing biodiversity, to name a few. Given that climate change, at least in part, is rooted in human behavior, an obvious question to ask is: Can psychological science offer evidence-based solutions to climate change?

In their recent article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, an interdisciplinary group of professors from the Netherlands, USA and Germany offer some innovative answers. They frame climate change as a social dilemma, a pervasive conflict between immediate self-interest and long-term collective interest. Lead author and Professor of Psychology at the VU Amsterdam, Paul van Lange, emphasizes that "For effectively reducing climate change, it is essential to promote a longer-time perspective and a broadened intergroup perspective -- in addition to strengthening the belief that climate change is real."

One way to convince people about the reality of climate change, they argue, is to have governments tailor information to local circumstances because it is the most concrete and relevant to decision makers. As Jeff Joireman, Professor of Marketing and International Business at Washington State University, notes "Flooding is a key example that could be very concrete to some people living in lower-altitude countries, while increasing heat might be more convincing to people living in hotter climates."

But how can a longer-time perspective be promoted? One way is to emphasize that the young and vulnerable, especially one's own children, are the ones who need to deal with these futures. Manfred Milinski, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the Max Planck Institute at Plön, Germany, highlights the importance of kinship cues, and suggests that "The recommendation is to include children in public education campaigns for increasing awareness of what climate change means for the future. Children serve the cue of vulnerability and trigger the need of caring and protection."

This is not the only recommendation to promote an orientation to the future. Paul van Lange adds: " It is for some decisions wise to include relatively uninvolved people, expert-advisors, in discussions of climate change - and especially in advice regarding urban planning and infrastructure. Involved people are likely to focus on the here and now of their houses, but research has shown that uninvolved experts are prone to look at longer-terms consequences of human decisions".

The final recommendation focuses on decisions that are made by representatives - such as national leaders when they have to reach an agreement about the climate agreements. As we know, such agreements are often less than successful. Why might that be? According to Paul Van Lange and Manfred Milinski: "Our research has shown that leaders tend to have a distrustful and competitive mindset toward one another. And those who are competitive with other leaders are often well-supported by the constituency" One potential solution is therefore to use this competitive mindset by having leaders compete over global reputations. For example, installing a "sustainable city award" may help majors to develop local policy to reduce car use in their cities or promote public transportation.
-end-
Contact information

Primary contact:


Paul van Lange, Professor of Psychology at VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Email: p.a.m.van.lange@vu.nl

Secondary contacts:


Jeff Joireman, Professor of Marketing and International Business at Washington State University, USA. Email: joireman@wsu.edu

Manfred Milinski, Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the Max Planck Institute at Plön, Germany. Email: milinski@evolbio.mpg.de

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.