Psychological barriers hobble climate action

WASHINGTON Wed Aug 5, 2009 5:57pm EDT

Water cascades from Bridalveil Fall from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, California May 17, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Water cascades from Bridalveil Fall from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, California May 17, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Psychological barriers like uncertainty, mistrust and denial keep most Americans from acting to fight climate change, a task force of the American Psychological Association said on Wednesday.

Policymakers, scientists and marketers should look at these factors to figure out what might prod people take action, the task force reported at the association's annual convention in Toronto.

While most Americans -- 75 percent to 80 percent in a Pew Research Center poll -- said climate change is an important issue, it still ranked last in a list of 20 compelling issues such as the economy or terrorism, the task force said.

Despite warnings from scientists that humans need to make changes now if they want to avoid the worst effects of climate change, "people don't feel a sense of urgency," the association said in a statement.

Numerous psychological barriers are to blame, the task force found, including: uncertainty over climate change, mistrust of the messages about risk from scientists or government officials, denial that climate change is occurring or that it is related to human activity.

Other factors include undervaluing the risk. Even though an international study showed many people believe environmental conditions will worsen in 25 years, that could lead some to conclude that they don't have to make changes now.

Some people believe anything they do would make little difference and they therefore choose to do nothing.

Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior, the task force found.

But habits can be changed, especially if changing saves money and people are quickly made aware of it. People are more likely to use energy-efficient appliances if they get immediate energy-use feedback, the task force said.

It identified other areas where psychology can help limit the effects of climate change, such as developing environmental regulations, economic incentives, better energy-efficient technology and communication methods.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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