The Challenge of Climate Change: A Social Science Perspective

By Joanne Thakker.

Published by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Arguably, an effective response to the problem of climate change will require that as a species, we radically change our behaviour. For example, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels or find ways of limiting the impact of this reliance. Such change, on such a grand scale, will not be easy to produce, however, the task will be more achievable if our methods are informed by our knowledge of human behaviour.

Basic psychological theories offer insights into the many factors that shape human behaviour. Behaviourists highlight the importance of various types of rewards and punishments, social psychologists emphasise the importance of interpersonal and societal variables, and evolutionary psychologists refer to the impact of evolutionary pressures (not that these approaches are mutually exclusive). Evolution has primed us to behave in ways which ensure our own survival, and therefore, the survival of our genes in future generations. This can be seen all around us in the way we live our lives. We care most for our own family members and place great importance on the wellbeing of those that we love. It is no accident that our most powerful feelings relate to intimate and familial relationships.

What we know now, suggests that individuals are unlikely to change their behaviour unless there is a real, impending and proximal problem. However, if we wait until such time as climate change begins to affect people in this way, it may be too late. Social scientists need to work together and with government bodies to develop behaviour change strategies that have a sound scientific basis. This paper makes some suggestions about such strategies based on our current understanding of human psychology.

Keywords: Human Behaviour, Human Nature, Psychology

International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.27-40. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 882.769KB).

Dr. Joanne Thakker

Senior Lecturer, Clinical Psychology, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ, New Zealand

Jo Thakker is a clinical psychologist and Senior Lecturer in psychology at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her primary research areas are substance use and abuse, forensic psychology, environmental psychology and cultural psychology. She is also particularly interested in philosophy and theory and so frequently explores the fundamental theoretical issues in each of these areas.


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