Rosamonde Venn

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Current climate predictions…

The IPCC Long-term Climate Change assessment suggests more regions will undergo adverse climate changes in the near future. This includes greater hot temperature extremes than cold temperature extremes on Earth. 

This includes atmospheric circulation changes resulting in broader equatorial dry zones. Not only this, changes to the water cycle are highly likely to occur inducing more frequent intense storms and fewer weak storms globally. 

It is almost certain we will have to change our way of living as we drastically change the world: so why don’t we? Our perception of current climate issues determines our social behaviours. The field of psychology attempts to identify and understand behaviours perpetuating the climate crisis, implying we can alter them. Can psychology be used to solve climate change? 

The psychology of climate change responses: Present Bias

The very nature of future predictions is that they are uncertain to ever occur. Individuals often display bias towards solving present issues rather than predicted issues in the near future. The reason for this may be that climate change risks are often geographically distant, posing little threat to most individuals. For example, hurricanes and tropical storms are on the rise but impact only certain areas such as coastal wetlands and islands. Globally, many people feel a lack of accountability for their actions as they remain largely unaffected. 

In a 2009 Washington Post article, David Fahrenthold suggested: “If someone created a problem people wouldn’t care about, it would look exactly like climate change.” It seems our present bias and lack of accountability could play a key role in our perception of climate change.

The Fear of Change that keeps us silent

Fear of change can occur when issues arise in our lives. If we fear something, people will choose to avoid the option of solving the issue if it will change their usual routine. This is called Status Quo bias, where change is feared over default.  

Status Quo bias is more likely when there is high uncertainty of said situation, as we can afford to put off thinking about it. This can evolve into a habit loop when presented with climate change issues. For example, people will continue to stick to a routine harmful to the environment rather than switch entirely to an eco-friendly habitual state.

The first steps to improved personal and environmental wellbeing

Dr Susan Clayton PhD of Psychology and Environmental Studies has studied the mental health effects of climate change. Even people who aren’t experiencing the direct effects of climate change still experience the stress associated. The most recent APA Stress in America survey found 21% of people found climate change a significant cause of stress. 

First identifying behaviours perpetuating the climate situation is necessary to reduce them. Clayton highlights the importance of being well-informed. Being well-informed through reliable online news sources promotes a sense of empowerment. This also helps diminish the feeling of helplessness people experience as they become more involved. Increased awareness of the climate situation can then combat present bias, allowing decisions resulting in the best environmental consequences. A large task may be daunting but breaking it down (chunking into smaller tasks) can increase manageability. 

Online groups help to discover and provide new eco-friendly alternatives and mental support. There are many online support groups available such as the Climate Wellbeing Network who aim to improve mental health. Another support group, Yale Climate Connections aims to address climate fear through chunking, by breaking issues down into manageable steps. The Campaign Against Climate Change connects regions across the UK with local groups and alliances, helping respond to local and global issues. 

Every individual’s actions contribute to solving the ongoing climate crisis but a greater sense of communication is necessary to improving the environment around us so that we have the best chance to successfully solve climate change.   



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