October 29, 20083 Comments

The ideology of simple painless steps

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

I've spent the last two days at a conference for environmental communicators, Communicate 08. There was a recurrent issue which ran through the whole conference - about the strategies that the environment movement deploys to create change.

We heard disparate inputs from (on the one hand) Tesco's ('Every Little Helps' - let's focus on successes in cutting carrier bag use, rather than the problem of consumerism) to Renee Lertzman's suggestion that public 'apathy' may be an emotional coping strategy which we deploy when confronted with the environmental problems we face.

Some of the discussion focussed on the evidence from social-psychology. There is little empirical evidence for the effectiveness of 'foot-in-the-door' approaches, as applied to more difficult environmental behaviours. (Foot-in-the-door is the idea that, by starting people off on simple painless steps like using fewer carrier bags, we will lead them up a virtuous escalator towards more ambitious and significant bahavioural changes. The evidence for this - at best thin - is reviewed in WWF's report Weathercocks and Signposts).

There was also some discussion of the inherent antagonism between materialistic values and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour, which has also been revealed by empirical studies. This should lead us to recognise the problems inherent to consumptive approaches to addressing environmental problems (the prescription that we should consume more CFLs, hybrid cars etc.). The green consumerism approach was written large by an exercise Pat Dade ran that encouraged participants to design desirable bathroom furniture for status-driven people. Learn how to change someone's buying behaviour, the message ran, and you have learned how to motivate them to make the necessary pro-environmental choices.

As the conference ran on, I realised that empirical arguments based on social psychological research are never going to hold sway over green consumerism and the 'simple and painless steps' approach: simply because they don't fit ideologically. The enthusiasm of companies like Tesco's, and of government, for these approaches fits with the dominant ideology of decoupling economic growth and environmental impact. For this reason, it will take more than empirical studies in the social sciences to dislodge the dominance of this perspective.

Empirically-based arguments from social psychology may not displace these approaches, but they may at least help to expose them as being driven more by ideology than empirical evidence.

That in itself is perhaps helpful: particularly in a context where those of us critical of green consumerism are so often portrayed ourselves as being motivated more by ideology than by a pragmatic assessment of what is needed to get us out of the hole we are all in.

October 16, 20081 Comment

Psychological counselling on climate change

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Jules Peck just sent me this link to a document produced by the Australian Psychological Society, offering "suggestions for dealing with distressing feelings when learning about environmental problems".

Although environmental threats are real and can be frightening, remaining in a state of heightened distress is not helpful for ourselves or for others. We generally cope better, and are more effective at making changes, when we are calm and rational.

It goes on to suggest:

Sometimes taking a news break can be helpful. Turning off the radio or TV, and having a break from the newspaper for a few days can be a welcome relief.

It's interesting to see a Psychological Society begin to acknowledge and respond to the psychological impacts of an understanding of environmental problems - something that many psychotherapists (Mary-Jayne Rust, for example) have long been suggesting underlies the problems that their clients bring to the couch.

June 6, 20081 Comment

What makes our species worth saving?

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

In a piece in this month's Ecologist, Richard Heinberg reflects on the psychological impacts of an awareness of the impact of climate change.

"Strategy shifts. We move from rehearsing 'Fifty simple things you can do to save the Earth' to discussing global triage. As the Great Unraveling proceeds, there may in fact be only one occupation worthy of our attention: that of identifying the qualities that make our species worth saving, and then celebrating and exemplifying those qualities. If we concentrate on doing that, perhaps we win no matter what."

He is surely right that we need to examine the value of life - and then to begin to construct a response to climate change drawing on this understanding. Unfortunately, 'green consumerism' and the 'business case for sustainable development' cannot step up to this.

Read 'How do you like the collapse so far?' here.

April 25, 2008No Comments

What does climate change do to our heads?

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

A recent article on Wordchanging:

A small yet growing body of evidence suggests that how people think and feel is being influenced strongly by ecosystem transformation related to climate change and industry-related displacement from the land. These powerful stressors are occurring more frequently around the world.

Read it here

April 23, 20081 Comment

Yale’s Gus Speth calls for shift from U.S. consumer capitalism to solve environmental problems

This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

The story may be familiar, but look who's saying it. Speth was founder of both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute.

Will shifting from a GDP-driven society help solve the United States' environmental problems? In his new book, "The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability," James Gustave Speth, dean of the Yale School on environment and forestry, argues that U.S.-style consumer capitalism needs to change in order for any progress on the environment to occur.

Watch the video

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

©2018 - 2019 Common Cause Foundation

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