Tag Archives: climate change

We’re all in this together… doing it in our own way

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

Yep, this picture is kind of cheesy.For better or for worse, global issues like climate change are bound up with existing social identities (Recap: a social identity is any type of social group in which someone is a member and feels a psychological sense of identification with the group.) This means that the practical scientific issues become entangled with social psychological issues. Protection of the natural environment has become associated with particular identities – you can imagine the stereotype of an environmentalist, and the many epithets this evokes (“granola eater,” “tree hugger,” etc.) This means people who identify as an environmentalist may be spurred to further positive action, but people who do not identify with the stereotype of an environmentalist may be put off from taking positive environmental action. In America, belief in climate change is segregated by party lines.

For issues like climate change, a small group of people, no matter how committed, just won’t be enough to cut it. We need all types of people, especially people that are psychologically repelled from the issue because of antagonism towards the stereotype of environmentalists. This is a problem, but it can be overcome. For example, Cohen (2003) experimentally demonstrated that people did not support political policies based on whether the policy matched their stated political views. Instead, the biggest factor was whether people identified with the political party that proposed the policy – if “we” support it, it must be good, but if “they” support it, it must be bad.

Ultimately, this means that dissimilar people are much more likely to get on board for taking action on climate change if their leaders forge their own self-determined path to promote the issue of climate change. Importing a disliked outgroup’s “brand” of environmentalism can backfire spectacularly. Disparate social groups need their own unique style of environmentalism. Fortunately, that is already happening. For example, Carbon Nation is a new documentary about climate change, aimed at politically conservative people who are typically resistant to the conventional image of environmentalism, and would not respond to a movie like An Inconvenient Truth. In Carbon Nation, the people who speak about climate change are a former CIA director, a conservative Alaskan, an army colonel, and a Texan farmer. To be sure, we need people like Al Gore and the self-identified tree huggers, but – like it or not – we especially need the hunters, the blue collar workers, and the truck drivers if we are to see effective public action on climate change. You can see the trailer for Carbon Nation here:

If you want a more detailed look at these kinds of issues, my PhD research uses experimental studies to investigate social identity’s role in environmental issues.

Cohen, G.L. (2003). Party over policy: The dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(5), 808–822.

Duke, C. C. (2010). Social identity and the environment: The influence of group processes on environmentally sustainable behaviour.

‘Will Carbon Nation succeed where An Inconvenient Truth failed?’ The Guardian.

Contemplating Climate Change: What Motivates Individuals to Act?

This weekend marks the end of the first week of climate change discussions in Copenhagen, Denmark. Leaders from around the world have congregated to discuss their goals for lowering emissions and to pledge financial assistance for developing countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change. While national leaders are negotiating their commitments, what changes are possible at an individual level?

In a recent study, Frantz and Mayer apply a popular model of helping to the issue of climate change and hypothesize as to what motivates individuals to take action (or not). Their model outlines where change can be encouraged and where barriers to change often exist at the individual and organizational level. For example, their findings suggest that the sheer magnitude of the climate change problem — and the fact that the personal resources of individuals pale in comparison — is one of the factors that leads individuals to “engage in defensive attribution” and thus deflect responsibility. They go on to suggest ways of engaging individuals with nature as well as helping them see ways they can participate in collective actions that increase their overall sense of efficacy.

In short, climate change is a complex issue to address — one that will require the efforts of nations, organizations and individuals. Social psychology has much to offer activists and organizers who need to consider the ways in which individuals rationalize action and/or inaction.

Frantz and Mayer, 2009, The Emergency of Climate Change: Why Are We Failing to Take Action?