The reasons to (not) act

…so why should I go through the trouble to change?

A task force of the American Psychological Assocoation investigated why so many people are still not acting on climate change even though  most people understand that climate change exists  and is human-caused. Understanding why people do not act enables us to better communicate the solutions we need to enact – expansion of renewable energies, improved energy efficiency, and behavioral  changes.

The report (which was presented at the 117’th APA meeting in Toronto) describes several factors that hamper fast and decisive action:


  • Uncertainty. As described yesterday, our climate is a highly interrelated system. Climate scientists can thus not give precise predictions, but their models estimate the most likely outcomes under certain assumptions. The estimated likelihoods are never 100% certain, because not every factor that contributes to changes in the climate system is known. Such lack of certainty is typical for most scientific studies, not just climate science. But it is climate science that is most attacked for its uncertainty. That seems quite irrational. Like a patient that is diagnosed with cancer, demanding 100% certainty that he will die from the disease. Of course, he will only be 100% certain when he is about to do die. Similarly, to require 100% certainty in climate science before acting would be nothing less but suicidal.
  • Mistrust. Scientists always want to receive additional funding to be able to continue their course of study. Many people therefore assume that climate scientists play up the severity of the problem to receive more money. However, grant proposals and publications undergo a very demanding review process. Even though this review process is not 100% fool-proof, it does guarantee that most published studies can be trusted and most financial support is distributed to those who deserve the support.
  • Denial. There are still some people around that deny that climate change exists and that it is caused by humans. But their numbers are dwindling as the evidence for anthropogenic climate change becomes more and more clear. So denial is not the problem any more that it used to be a few years ago.
  • Undervaluing Risks. Even people who understand that climate change is happening and that it will be disastrous if we do not act in time do not realize that we need to act immediately to avoid the enormous risk of passing irreversible tipping points.  And that immediately means today, not tomorrow. Procrustination is a normal part of our busy lifes; but procrustinating effective action to combat climate change will be disastrous.
  • Lack of Control. Many people feel that they cannot make a difference anyway, so why should they go through the trouble of doing anything? That attitude is probably the most common among people; it is a convenient excuse for inaction. But a bad one, because it is not true. We all determine our lives together. The millions of daily actions and decisions determine what products are produced, which politicians are ruling the world, which airplanes are flying. We all are part of a machinery that only functions due to the actions of every single one of us. Who else but I should start the change?
  • Habit. We like doing the same things that we used to do before. Changing our habits is therefore one of the hardest things to do.

How can we overcome these factors? There is no silver bullet, e.g., there is no single approach that will lead to success. But a combination of several approaches will help to move more people to act quicker:

1. Communication. We need to better communicate what climate change is all about by speaking clearly and openly about both the science and the solutions, addressing both the brains and the hearts of our audience.

2. Personal benefit. People need to understand that whatever action they decide to take will result in a personal benefit.

3. Practicability. The actions need to be simple and be supported and implemented with the help of trustworthy, competent people.

We still require a lot more people who help others understand and practice the changes we need. Once we have a critical mass of active people, then the followers will jump on as well to create the mass movement that is still missing. Let’s hope we will reach that critical mass in time.

Maiken Winter

Source: Science Daily

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