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Psychology is to blame for humans not acting on climate change, psychologists say

August 5, 2009 |  2:16 pm

PolarIf you ever wondered what is to blame for the world's sluggish reaction to climate change, wonder no longer. The American Psychological Assn. has concluded in a 225-page report that the culprit is...

...human behavior.

That's right! Human behavior. Read all about it here. The panel of eight psychologists is slated to present its findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Assn. on Friday.

It may seem a tad ridiculous to have to even say that human behavior is responsible for the failure of humans to act, let alone take 225 pages to say it. I mean, what else would likely be responsible than people's minds and brains -- their big toes?

But the report gets into useful specifics. It draws on past studies on people's behavior in disaster situations. It examines what science knows about how you can get people to alter their behavior and what doesn't seem to work at all, no matter how fine and dandy an idea may sound. One example: People are more likely to use energy-efficient devices if they're given feedback, right then and there, about how much energy/money they're saving, rather than if they have to wait until they get their power bill.

Makes sense: Our species doesn't seem especially well-wired to act with long-term rewards in mind. We're much better at seeking gratification right this second, which is why I ate that bag of trail mix five minutes ago even though I'd like to drop some pounds and had only just had lunch.

The task force was convened because the APA wanted to involve psychologists in crafting a solution to climate change and in predicting how people are likely to react to it. 

--Rosie Mestel

Photo credit: BBC Worldwide