Describe some of the factors that prevent or deter people from engaging in proenvironmental behaviours
Describe some of the factors that prevent (or deter) people from engaging in pro-environmental behaviours
The world today we live in today is faced with seemingly cataclysmic problems such as climate change and global warming but despite this; the world’s populations live their daily lives oblivious to the impact of their actions and behaviour on the environment. In this essay, I will try to discuss some of the factors that prevent (or deter) people from engaging in pro-environmental behaviours.
The role of people’s beliefs and attitudes
Azjens theory of planned behaviour model (figure 1) can help explain how behavioural beliefs generate either positive or negative behaviour and so changing behaviour can only be done successfully by changing the underlying belief systems. So, using Azjens chart, it can be argued that people with negative attitudes towards recycling will thus be a function of negative beliefs about recycling and issues surrounding it.
Figure 1: Azjens theory of planned behaviour model
Once such negative attitudes are entrenched, people’s intentions will thus negatively influence their behaviour (Kazdin 2009; Milbrath 1995; Gifford 2007; Gifford 2011). In a nutshell, people’s beliefs about the environment can act as a barrier to taking pro-environmental behavioural action.
Some reasons why people discount the future and fail to engage in pro-environmental behaviour are examined in the following section;
Evolutionary psychology and temporal discounting
Studies of evolutionary psychology also show that environmental problems can be a result of the human evolutionary trait for temporal discounting, essentially putting today’s tiny pleasures ahead of greater needs of tomorrow (Gifford 2007; Gifford 2008; Gifford 2011). Discounting behaviour is incidentally not unique to humans only, as it has been observed that squirrels who spend a lot of time preparing and storing food for upcoming winters (instead of watching for predators) rarely make it to those winters (Penn 2003).
Discounting thus can help explain humanity’s ecological short-sightedness thats leading to more environmental damage and unsustainable living. One can therefore reason that if human minds are evolutionarily short-sighted, then pro-environmental policies designed to change behaviour will fail unless it takes into account this human psychology. It is no wonder logical appeals to people’s minds about the dangers of climate change or over consumption on the environment tend to fall on deaf ears (Penn 2003; Kaplan 2000).
Tragedy of the commons
One other reason why people discount the future and fail to engage in pro-environmental behaviour is referred to as the tragedy of the commons (Penn 2003 p285). First coined by evolutionary psychologist Garrett Hardin (1968), Hardin observed that people seemed to have a high propensity to engage in ecological overexploitation of common-pool natural resources such as fisheries without any regard for others as well as restraint (Penn 2003). According to Penn (2003 p285), in a situation like this, people often reasoned along the lines of "Why should I sacrifice and minimize my reproduction and environmental impact if others do not do the same?”.
Gifford (2008) further adds that self-interest also explains the inaction and lack of cooperation between global nations, arguing that self-interest rises as group size (population) increases. Self-interest as well as group identity within our planetary commons have also been hampering global efforts to bring about pro-environmental action (Schultz 2001). For example, in December, 2007, China continually rejected mandatory emissions cuts arguing that wealthy nations created the problem (Ibid). In 2017, the US president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, citing similar conspiratorial reasons.
While such behaviour takes a cynical perspective on the nature of humanity, it does offer insights into why individual self-interest and group identity can often self-sabotage efforts to encourage pro-environmental action. In any case, self-interest is not inevitable (Penn 2003), because social pressure can often force people to develop an ecological conscience.
Kazdin (2009 p345) contends that social pressure can be used through changing the type of pro-environmental message in any given context from non-normative to social normative. An example of this would be in a hotel where a message requesting guests to reuse their towels would change from a typical non-normative message such as “Help save the environment” to a more social normative message that suggests that most or some high percentage of “other guests” (i.e., the social norm) have elected to reuse their towels.
Therefore, by making pro-environmental messages, for example about recycling, more socially normative, it would lead more people to recycle. The social normative message highlighting “other people” was found to have encouraged a greater adoption of behaviour such as reusing towels among hotel guests (44% compared to 37%) in comparison to the environmental message. However, this type of message if wrongly framed, such as “Many people litter, please do not be one of them” is likely to worsen the problem by normative modelling of the behaviour opposite from what is desired or intended (Kazdin (2009 p345).
The problem of Reactance
People are often mistrustful of information and messages that come from scientists or government sources (Lorenzoni et al 2007; Milbrath 1995). Gifford (2011) says this mistrust is due to the fact such sources are partly discredited by enemies of the environment such as the fossil fuel industry that is more interested in keeping the status quo of oil consumption. This has been achieved successfully and it is hard to see how peoples use of cars that burn fossil fuels will stop any time soon. The opposition to environment mitigating behaviour in fossil fuel consumption is very powerful. For example, in the Fortune 500, 7 of the top 11 corporations are oil companies while 2 are automobile corporations, the remaining 2 being Walmart and State Grid of China (Fortune 2013).
In other words, when the biggest businesses in the world are engaged in industries that are built on burning fossil fuels responsible for producing greenhouse gases causing global warming (Oskamp 2000; Oskamp 2001), the probability that mitigating behaviour will come about with ease is very low. This is what Gifford (2007; 2009; 2011) called behavioural momentum. The concept of behavioural momentum comes from the idea of sunk costs, which notes that people who have invested enormous resources such as time, money, effort and behavioural patterns are not likely to change their action, behaviours or allegiances (Gifford 2011). Thus behavioural momentum can be seen as a habit once formed will be difficult to get rid of and even though people may logically try to change, old patterns of behaviour are hard to get rid of (Gifford 2008; Gifford 2011; Penn 2003).
The end result of people logically trying their best to make pro-environmental choices, will be engagement in low-cost pro-environment behaviour that may have little or no impact on outcomes such as the level of greenhouse gas emissions (Gifford 2008; 2011). This has been called the low-cost hypothesis (Gifford 2011).
Environmental numbness is the concept that people are often not aware of their immediate environment especially if it causes them little to no immediate pain (Gifford 2011 p292). The notion of environmental numbness is a human-nature challenge that psychologists recognise as proximal cognition or limited processing theory (Gifford 2008 p277). Its rationale is that most people go about their daily routines without much reflection or rational planning with much of their attention focussed on immediate challenges involving friends, family, work or football. Environmental numbness means that people don’t pay that much attention to distant challenges like climate change. This social dilemma has its origins in evolutionary psychology and how the ancient brain works.
Could man’s ancient brain be a barrier to climate change action?
“Homo sapiens has brought its old mind into the new world” is an observation made by Ehlrich and Ehlrich (1990). The theory, cited in Penn (2003 p286) is that the current state of the human mind is irrational, and maladaptive and unable to recognize the environmental threats because of an evolutionary mismatch (Penn 2003). Environmental psychology is beginning to understand why this is so by arguing that our ancestors were mainly tribal people more concerned with their “immediate band, immediate dangers, exploitable resources, and the present time” (Gifford 2011 p291). So, the theory is that people are not concerned with long-term issues such as climate change because our ancestors gained no advantages by reacting to them (Penn 2003). Short-termism is thus wired into humans even when we know we pressing the self-destruct button by not engaging in pro-environment behaviour (Gladwin et al 1997)
Evolutionary psychologists attribute this poor adaptation of the mind at evaluating risk to the rather simple way human cognition and behaviour is designed. Penn (2003) actually asserts the human mind is more adapted to process simple heuristics for those problems our ancestors faced rather than complex algorithms. In a way, this actually means that people only require simple instructions instead of complex directions to regulate their decision making. In lay terms, this means that rather than bombarding people with statistical information presented in probabilistic terms, governments and institutions would find it easier to influence behaviour by providing more emotional and aesthetically appealing stories (Penn 2003).
In summary, it can be seen that environmental psychology describes some of the factors that prevent (or deter) people from engaging in pro-environmental behaviours. Summarily, these factors include beliefs and attitudes, the evolutionary psychology of temporal discounting, tragedy of the commons, reactance, behavioural momentum, environmental numbness and a maladaptive ancient brain.
The solutions to some of the barriers can include education and provision of more information about environmental problems such as climate change. The threat of regulation has for example been shown to be more effective than regulation itself in forcing people to adopt certain behaviour. While change is more effective at the individual level, big business is too invested in activities that are not pro-environment and this might prove difficult to change at least in the short-term. Lastly, people are social animals and their behaviour is more likely to be influenced by what others are doing. This knowledge plus the fact that beliefs create intention which creates behaviour is a good starting point. Change people’s beliefs is the key message from psychology.
Gifford, R. (2007) “Environmental psychology and sustainable development: expansion, maturation, and challenges” Journal of Social Issues, 63, 1, 2007, 199-212.
Gifford, R. 2008, "Psychology's essential role in alleviating the impacts of climate change", Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 273-280.
Gifford, R. 2011, "The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation", American Psychologist, vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 290-302.
Gladwin, T.N., W.E. Newburry and E.D. Reiskin (1997) "Why is the Northern elite mind biased against community, the environment and a sustainable future?," in Environment, Ethics and Behavior: The Psychology of Environmental Valuation and Degradation, eds. M.H. Bazerman, et al. (San Francisco: The New Lexington Press).
Kaplan, S. (2000) “Human nature and environmentally responsible behaviour” Journal of Social Issues, 56, 3, 491-508
Kazdin, A.E. 2009, "Psychological science’s contributions to a sustainable environment: Extending our reach to a grand challenge of society", American Psychologist, vol. 64, no. 5, pp. 339-356.
Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2007). Barriers perceived to engaging with climate change among the UK public and their policy implications. Global Environmental Change, 17, 445-459.
Milbrath, L.W. (1995) “Psychological, cultural, and informational barriers to sustainability” Journal of Social Issues, 51, 4, 101-120
Oskamp, S. (2000) “A sustainable future for humanity? How can psychology help?” American Psychologist, 55, 496-508.
Penn, D.J. (2003) “The evolutionary roots of our environmental problems: toward a Darwinian Ecology” The Quarterly Review of Biology, 78, 3, 275-301.
Schultz, P.W. (2001) “The structure of environmental concern: concern for self, other people, and the biosphere” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21, 4, 327-339
Swim, J.K., Stern, P.C., Doherty, T.J., Clayton, S., Reser, J.P., Weber, E.U., Gifford, R. & Howard, G.S. 2011, "Psychology's contributions to understanding and addressing global climate change", American Psychologist, vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 241-250.
Copyright © 2007-2019 123 Writing.com. All rights reserved. All forms of copying, distribution or reproduction are strictly prohibited and will be prosecuted to the Full Extent of Law.
Enter your details to get full access to all our free essays.
We will not send you spam, unsubscribe anytime: