The Role of Psychology in the Climate Change Debate

The Climate Change Debate involves the rancour in the scientific community as to whether or not climate change is actually happening and as to whether or not its effects spell doom as conveyed. The more easily conveyed aspect of climate change is called the greenhouse effect. This effect involves explaining the energy balance on earth and how that the presence of greenhouse gases; would increase the atmosphere’s capacity to retain heat; leading to increase in temperature. A major greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, a major by-product of exhaust emissions; and generally all fossil fuel power plants/generators emissions.

First of all, let us define the major terms involved in this discourse. Greenhouse gases include water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons; and carbon dioxide; and it is the increasing amounts of these gases that is resulting in global warming. The resultant quantum leap would be to scrap fossil fuels; but that would be too expensive because majority of the world’s energy supply is based on fossil fuels. I speculate that the reason for the debate is the attempt to protect the fossil fuel energy aspect of the economy in order for it not to crumble; because that quantum leap would paralyze trillion dollars of onshore and offshore investments in the oil and gas industry. In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization; and United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) established a panel to monitor climate change; and proffer credible advice to the world. In one of their reports, (IPCC, 2007); there was shown the need to start taking immediate steps in the direction of forestalling and progressively reversing climate change in an attempt to save the planet of gigantic losses that would be involved in the events that would unfold if there remains inaction. Diamond, (2004) explains the situation in Easter Island; whereby the result of human activities; deforestation in this case; kept decreasing the island’s sustainability for humans to continue to live there; the island collapsed because of the greed of the explorers.

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Climate projections have it (Mann, 2015); that in the coming years; ice caps would have melted, the polar bears might become extinct, there would be overflowing of the ocean; and many coastal cities might be lost to this. This calls for the need for clear path for action in order to mitigate the factors mediating climate change. The role of psychology in the debate is to identify the biases in the opposing arguments; which is obviously group interests; but the role of psychology would be richer; now that the debate has a consensus; and psychology can play a role in fighting against climate change. The Role of Psychology Climate change is thus a phenomenon to be systematically tackled; since humans are at the heart of making these changes themselves. Climate change did not happen in one day; it happened over time and due to the build-up of environmentally unsustainable behaviour; resulting in what we have today. This shows that no matter the approach; the mitigation strategies are not going to work all of a sudden; it is a gradual process.

This gradual process starts with identifying the behavioural patterns that are necessary for both mitigating the impact of climate change; and reducing it to its barest minimum. Psychology being imbued with theoretical understanding of behaviour is very important; because there are a lot of psychological dimensions to climate change. For example; the ways that individuals will manage climate change personally; and their coping processes are psychological. Hence, whatever policies are going to be made has to properly consider all groups; and these psychological processes. Psychologists role is to engage the mitigation; and research on why certain policies might stir up certain reactions; why certain policies might be effective; why people have preference for certain messages; or whether it is purely group dynamics that will influence their attentiveness; and behaviour change (Spence, Pidgeon & Uzzell, 2009).

Part of the role of psychologists is to collaborate with other fields in addressing this phenomenon in context; including sociology, environmental science, geography and meteorology, to mention but a few. It is possible that via thorough investigation; the psychological basis for energy consumptive behaviours will be elucidated; and used in order to construct campaigns that will bring about people behaving in better and energy conserving environmentally friendly ways. Also, when the climate change itself begins to unravel in form of disasters; and unprecedented climatic events; it is psychologists that are better positioned with interventions to cushion the psychosocial effects of the changes associated with these events. The victims have to be counselled in order to forestall onset of post-traumatic stress disorder; and the community has to be managed with individual needs being assessed and understood. Carbon emissions remains a germane aspect of global warming; being involved in the greenhouse effect. This is a problem that is going to probably be the hardest to deal with and that is why psychologists need to be mobilized alongside professionals from other fields in order to solve this problem.

It is obvious that these emissions are the result of energy consumption and are from power plants; and cars. For example; are we supposed to say that people should stop using cars? If we are to reduce the amount of cars on the road in an attempt to mitigate climate change, how will the car manufacturers then respond? For many people using a car is not a matter of what they think of doing as right but it is ingrained into the lifestyle as a necessary utility for moving around privately. Even in the presence of underground trains and commercial buses; the need for privacy and territoriality is still going to influence the choice of many to still go for cars. In the case of cars, the main psychological view had being to provide incentives for using more energy efficient cars; for example, cars using nuclear reactors, hybrid engine, solar panels. While this might be effective, the opportunity cost has to be considered; because; if suddenly, those cars with alternative energy are heavily subsidized, everyone will buy them; and this will put a very magnanimous toll on the economy.

Looking at the example of cars; we should be able to notice that there is a back and forth in terms of gains to the environment and the economy; and that striking a balance has to be done with caution; and incentives cannot just be given anyhow; they have to be constructed in such a way that the adverse effects don’t end up defeating the purpose; e.g. people selecting the hybrid brands, only to drive more miles and end up using fuel and releasing emissions. According to Bierman et al, (2012); the costs of reducing carbon emission; even though reducing these emissions is bound to benefit the global public; will be borne individually; by each country attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emission; costing nations individually; and benefiting all humankind.

There is this diffusion of social responsibility that causes each nation to end up doing very little to combat climate change; and looking at other countries; expecting them to take the lead; and bear the economic losses. Most aspects of climate change are rather technical and they will require that certain messages be metered to the public. The public is never unipolar; and they might perceive one message in an endlessly diverse number of ways. So; psychology is still going to be involved in research not just for the psychological dimensions to be considered in terms of policies to be introduced and implemented in curbing climate change; but more importantly in terms of construction and research towards perception of civil messages that will facilitate the path to awareness; and a consciousness of environmental and economic effects of their behavioural tendencies.

Concluding Remarks I would like to conclude by saying that first of all; this consensus on climate change has to be appropriately publicised because different factions of people might be oblivious to the recent arrangements; and turn in the debate. The role of humans in both having caused the climate change and being able to reverse it cannot be overemphasized. Through encouraging replanting of trees that are felled, alternative energy research; gradually making people more comfortable with nuclear energy’s side effects; and things like that; through effective public messages, campaigns; and policies which are engineered to be psychologically holistic; climate change can be reversed. Sustainable behaviour analyses and change management is our role as psychologists in this debate (Spence, Pidgeon and Uzzell, 2009). .

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The Role of Psychology in the Climate Change Debate. (2022, Mar 13). Retrieved from