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What psychology can teach us about our response to climate change

Leo Hickman, Guardian
Calls to ‘save the planet’ or ‘do it for our grandchildren’ do not engage people, says psychology professor

… [Prof David] Uzzell is based at the University of Surrey’s Department of Psychology and was appointed as the UK’s first Professor of Environmental Psychology in 2000. I spoke to him ahead of his lecture and asked him to summarise its themes:

… psychologists now need to work with other disciplines, such as engineering, sociology etc. We need to have a much better understanding of the conditions which lead to unsustainable behaviour. It’s no good the government saying to us that for journeys less than a mile you should walk or use public transport because when you are trying to juggle demands, such as your job and children within limited time, you are probably going to take your car. We need to change the conditions rather than attack individual behaviours.


… People also need feedback on how they’re doing. People need to know explicitly what the benefits are of what they are being asked to do. People are not interested in concepts such as "saving the planet" or "doing it for their grandchildren". People want impacts that are concrete, immediate and personal to them. They need to see how it’s benefiting them. If they are being asked to make – what they see in their terms, at least – as a sacrifice, they need to see what the benefit is to them.

… when we ask what the causes of the environmental problems are we get interesting results. If you ask people to rank causes, you find the highest scores for ‘inaction by government’ or the ‘actions of industries’. You also see the ‘industrialisation of developing countries’, the ‘poverty of developing countries’, and ‘overpopulation’ as ranking highly. Overall, what you see is a tendency to distance the causes from themselves.

Rejecting climate change as a problem is, in a way, a coping strategy. Another aspect is that recent events, such as the UEA emails affair, the failure of COP15 at Copenhagen etc, give people a convenient reason to discount climate change as a threat. It gives them a permission to deny.

We shouldn’t be surprised that people see climate change as remote and impersonal to them. We shouldn’t be talking about how our lives will become somehow poorer through climate change, but instead be talking about it could help us to become healthier, happier and enable us to live in a better environment.

(23 September 2010)


Facebook: Unfriend Coal

Greenpeace, YouTube
A timely story about Mark Zuckerberg, a friendly blue giant, and dirty old co

(13 September 2010)
Suggested by Asher Miller of Post Carbon Institute.


Rocky Mountain Dust-up: Runoff’s Dirty Secret

Melinda Burns, Miller-McCune
The dust on high peaks, blown in from Southwestern pastures, farms, mining roads and off-road vehicle parks, is hastening snowmelt and reducing the runoff into the Colorado River, scientists say.

Every time the winds blow east from the deserts of the Southwest, it means less water for 27 million people who depend on the Colorado River.

Layers of dust form every year on snowfields in the Rocky Mountains, blown in from pastures, farms, dirt roads and off-road vehicle parks. For decades, according to a study released this week by the National Academy of Sciences, this dust on snow both accelerates the annual runoff by weeks and reduces what reaches the Colorado River by 5 percent.

Clean snow reflects about 80 percent of the sunlight that hits it. But in the high Rockies, dust on snow absorbs heat from the sun, dropping reflectivity to just 33 percent, said Thomas Painter, the lead researcher for the study and a snow hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The dust is doubling the load of sun going into the snow pack,” Painter said. “It’s so effective at melting down the clean snow underneath it and on top of it.”
(23 September 2010)

Arctic Ice in Death Spiral

Stephen Leahy, IPS
UXBRIDGE, Canada – The carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have melted the Arctic sea ice to its lowest volume since before the rise of human civilisation, dangerously upsetting the energy balance of the entire planet, climate scientists are reporting.

"The Arctic sea ice has reached its four lowest summer extents (area covered) in the last four years," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the U.S. city of Boulder, Colorado.

The volume – extent and thickness – of ice left in the Arctic likely reached the lowest ever level this month, Serreze told IPS.

"I stand by my previous statements that the Arctic summer sea ice cover is in a death spiral. It’s not going to recover," he said.

There can be no recovery because tremendous amounts of extra heat are added every summer to the region as more than 2.5 million square kilometres of the Arctic Ocean have been opened up to the heat of the 24-hour summer sun. A warmer Arctic Ocean not only takes much longer to re-freeze, it emits huge volumes of additional heat energy into the atmosphere, disrupting the weather patterns of the northern hemisphere, scientists have now confirmed.
(20 September 2010)
Suggested by EB contributor Bill Henderson.