How can a person change his nature
Climate Change - Who Will Help People Change? Part 4
With “Fridays for Future”, climate protection came back powerfully on the political and media agenda. What, however, has hardly been discussed so far: How can the individual be activated to act? What prevents people from acting? Instead, it currently looks as if politicians are trying to square the circle. Climate protection, yes please - but the citizen should continue to live as before.
On September 20, 2019, the climate cabinet will decide how the federal government wants to reduce Germany's carbon dioxide emissions. On September 23, Angela Merkel will present this program at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York. We take this as an opportunity to support those who ask themselves the question: What can the individual do - and who, and how, can induce people to finally start acting after 30 years of discussion?
We asked scientists from a wide variety of disciplines -Communication science, philosophy and ethics,Economy,Psychology andSociology.
Part 1: Communication Science and Climate Communication
Part 2: Philosophy and Ethics
Part 3: Economics
Part 4: Psychology and Sociology
- Dr. Michael Kopatz, Project Leader Energy, Transport and Climate Policy, Research Area Energy Policy, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy GmbH, Wuppertal
- Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge, Professor of Social Sciences in the Marine Tropics, Leibniz Center for Marine Tropical Ecology GmbH (ZMT), Bremen
- Prof. Dr. Andreas Ernst, Professor for Environmental Systems Analysis / Environmental Psychology and Deputy Managing Director of the Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel
- Prof. Dr. Gerhard Reese, Professor of Environmental Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau
- Dr. Corinna Fischer, group leader “Sustainable Products and Consumption”, Öko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt
- Prof. Dr. Ellen Matthies, Professor of Environmental Psychology, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg
- Dr. Immanuel Stieß, Head of Research Focus Energy and Climate Protection in Everyday Life, Institute for Social Ecological Research GmbH (ISOE), Frankfurt am Main
- Dr. Roland Quabis, Research Associate at the Chair of Social Psychology, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich (LMU), Munich
- Dr. Astrid Kause, Post-doctoral Researcher Energy and Climate Change Mitigation, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Dr. Michael Kopatz
Project manager for energy, transport and climate policy, energy policy research area, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy GmbH, Wuppertal
“Surveys show that almost the entire population would like more commitment to climate protection, but there is more flown than ever before. Collectively we want change, individually only a few want to start. Little changes because people feel disadvantaged when they do without the flight or the car or limit themselves “alone”. That can change if we make the desired behavior routine. "
"Relationships change behavior: Structures have to change in such a way that eco becomes the norm. The products in the supermarket can become more sustainable without everyone having to worry about the most sustainable product or morally correct consumption. "
“The traffic turnaround is possible - without any personal sacrifice. And 'organic for everyone!' Could also be put into practice more easily. It is the task of politics to free consumers from the burden of always having to make the 'right' decision. "
“In order for the structures to change, those who are in motion have to work for it. Personal responsibility does not mean just taking bamboo cups to go. Personal responsibility means fighting for a political reshaping of fundamental mechanisms. "
“According to a study by political scientist Erica Chenoweth, movements of the 21st century will be successful if they can mobilize at least 3.5 percent of the people on a consistent basis. These people, for example from the EDSA revolution in the Philippines or the rose revolution in Georgia, did not limit themselves to practicing non-violent communication at home. "
“They took to the streets and demonstrated. You made political demands. They protested together. The figure of 3.5 percent can be an encouragement not to get tangled up in discussions about vacation flights, but to block roads with #ExtinctionRebellion. "
“Disaster communication makes people dull. On the one hand. But what is the alternative? Don't report? But it doesn't help. You can't stop working on the topic and the escalation of the climate crisis over and over again and with different variants. In addition, there are always new generations on the radar of journalistic and scientific work. A new book about combating the climate crisis can easily consist of 90 percent familiar content. However, it may reach new target groups or generations. "
Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge
Professor for social sciences in the marine tropics, Leibniz Center for Marine Tropical Ecology GmbH (ZMT), Bremen
When asked why most people haven't changed their behavior despite the climate crisis:
“Humans are creatures of habit who like to be guided by structures and everyday rules. Achieving behavior change among many requires adapting our legal, economic and socially accepted rules and norms. The state and the market bear a great responsibility here. "
In response to the question of the relationship between individual action and the necessary political changes in climate protection:
"Acting at the level of the individual and the collective - especially in a democracy - represents the basis for political decision-making. Structural change, changes at the legal level, for example, are usually due to social rethinking processes and changes in behavior, such as in consumer behavior.
When asked to what extent it makes sense for individuals to change their individual behavior:
"Change in behavior at the level of the individual and towards a more climate-friendly way of dealing with our planet is absolutely necessary in order to achieve greater social rethinking processes."
When asked under what conditions people or institutions are ready to change their behavior:
“Massive social transformation processes can be traced back either to drastic historical events, i.e. ecological crises, wars, famines, or to successive social learning processes that shape lifestyles, fashions and social classes across the board and changes in everyday behavior, in people's routines, appear to be desirable and make them structurally possible. "
Prof. Dr. Andreas Ernst
Professor for Environmental Systems Analysis / Environmental Psychology and Deputy Managing Director of the Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel
“All energy and therefore climate-relevant behavior such as mobility, living or nutrition are habits. We ourselves know how difficult it is to change habits. Only a bundle of supportive but also steering measures that start both in the head and outside the head can help. It is just as important to have serious role models in friends, politics and business to demonstrate the importance of climate protection as the actual availability of safe bike paths or local public transport. "
“Social change is social innovation. And it works like technical innovation. This, too, first asserts itself in certain groups and only then spreads to other layers - or not. Large parts of society are already fully behind climate protection. Others - out of other interests - do not. The question is rather how to deal with these interests without jeopardizing the success of climate protection. "
“There is no alternative to reporting on the observable effects of climate change. It has made the discomfort grow. In other words, the feeling that we are dealing with something that is difficult to get to grips with with conventional 'business as usual' methods. The 'Fridays for Future' movement is the visible and audible expression of this discomfort. "
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Reese
Professor of Environmental Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau
When asked why most people haven't changed their behavior despite the climate crisis:
“The answer is - as surely expected - not that easy. Despite their similarity, people are very different, have different needs that are met in different ways. "
“The climate crisis is difficult for us to come to terms with because it is abstract, massive and, for many, feels far away. In addition, most of the 'climate-friendly' behavioral alternatives (public transport instead of car, train instead of flight, organic instead of conventional) are often experienced as more uncomfortable and more expensive, but this is not always the case. In addition, the past generations, including the present, have grown into an economic system that is designed for consumption and capital - and this economic system is disastrous in its resource consumption. We finally have to break away from this 'narrative' - the story - that economic growth is only good. "
“Many people do not change their behavior because the effects of their own behavior seem too small to them - there is a lack of self-efficacy. It is therefore important to bring this feeling of effectiveness ('I can achieve something for climate protection.') To a collective level ('We can achieve more climate protection together!'). A second reason is that in a society brushed on 'turbo-capitalism' we often try to satisfy our basic needs for social relationships, competence and autonomy through consumption - instead of through shared time and experiences. "
"What does it take? Psychologically: This 'We can pull this together!' Is very helpful, as well as making yourself aware that others are already active and are dealing with behavioral alternatives. In addition, there must be a change in values - ideally politically legitimized - that is less geared towards performance, capital and growth. Politically: Clear decisions for climate protection and the environment - both with bans (the ban on smoking in public spaces and driving without seatbelts no longer cries) as well as incentives and above all: the creation of behavioral alternatives! A behavioral alternative to intra-European flights: an intra-European night train network! A behavior alternative to having your own car: nationwide sharing offers and public transport. A behavioral alternative to a meat-rich diet: increasing the price of meat and subsidizing vegetables. "
When asked whether constant symptom reporting leads to people turning a blind eye to the effects of climate change or a growing motivation to change behavior:
“Both things can happen: a dulling on the one hand, a permanent anchoring of the topic in our minds on the other hand. We have to ensure that the latter happens, that people notice: We have to act, burying our heads in the sand will hit our children massively at the latest - and also in Europe and not just in remote island states. According to some climate scientists, dry and far too hot summers are the beginning. If the Fridays for Future movement, Extinction Rebellion and all other social movements manage to keep the momentum going, then this should go hand in hand with a feeling of 'collective effectiveness' and help bring about behavioral and political change. "
“In case it has not yet sounded through: It is important that we discuss the psychological aspects of the reactions to climate change in the social system - of course I can say 'don't drive a car!', But that is just not possible in a society in which more and more People have to commute and there is no alternative - especially in rural areas. At the same time, however, there are so-called 'big points' with which each individual can make their contribution - usually at no additional cost: Consume less meat and animal products, avoid flights, use green electricity, cycle and run for short distances instead of driving a car. "
Dr. Corinna Fischer
Group leader "Sustainable Products and Consumption", Öko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt
“For a long time, the climate crisis was not directly tangible. The effects of one's own actions cannot be felt directly either. Well-rehearsed routines and the compulsion of the circumstances also stand in the way of climate-friendly action. For example, there is no public transport or buildings are poorly insulated. Social norms often work in the opposite direction - for example, when vacation flights are the norm. Or people have other priorities: coping with everyday life, recognition, relaxation or adventure. "
Dr. Fishermangives the following Sources at: , .
“Individual action is only one aspect of the necessary social change. At the same time, models, general political conditions, infrastructures, technologies and markets have to change. All of these changes are intertwined. The role of individuals or groups can be to change social norms, to exert influence on companies as consumers or to demand a stringent climate policy and give them tailwind. "
Dr. Fishermangives the followingSources to: , , .
“Politics should neither 'reward' nor 'punish', but rather facilitate climate-friendly action and make it more difficult to do something harmful to the climate. For example, public transport must be available, convenient, safe and inexpensive. In cities, it should be given more space at the expense of car traffic. A combination of different instruments is most effective: do's and don'ts, infrastructures, prices that tell the 'ecological truth' and support measures for investments such as building renovation. In addition, there is communication that justifies the need for action and shows options. "
Dr. Fishermangives the followingSources to: , .
Prof. Dr. Ellen Matthies
Professor of Environmental Psychology, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg
When asked why most people haven't changed their behavior despite the climate crisis:
“First of all, the initial question itself must be viewed critically. The question focuses on people in their role as consumers; their role as citizens is just as important. In recent years it has been shown that the majority of Germans consider environmental and climate protection to be very important . This is an important reaction and change for people as citizens. The visible political commitment and new majorities are also an important change in the behavior of our society (Fridays for Future; growth of Greens in the European elections). "
“Nevertheless, the question of 'What it takes' or 'What is currently failing' makes sense for all the people who are looking to reduce their CO2-Have not yet reduced footprint. Individual action follows a multitude of goals, and ecological goals are usually only subordinate in the concrete action situation (this has been known for a long time in environmental psychology, a nice article on this, for example , empirical work summarized in ). Many goals and aspects of action situations in everyday life (speed, flexibility, behavioral costs, monetary costs, status, enjoyment) are currently in contradiction to ecological action. "
“The answer to the question of a sensible strategy can already be derived from this: Less concern or awareness of the problem needs to be promoted, because it is already very pronounced. From a psychological perspective, it is important that the action situation, or the many everyday action situations, should be such that the ecological behavior is obvious. Overall, this creates both prices (i.e. higher costs for CO2-intensive and lower for CO2-reducing products / technologies) as well as regulations. I assume that most citizens associate 'price' with overspending. Actually, however, this is not an idea that lies at the heart of CO2- Pricing is fair. So far, environmental costs have been externalized, which means that problematic consumption is indirectly subsidized by everyone. If instead of CO2-Prices correctly speak of a reduction in subsidies, the acceptance of the population would presumably be significantly greater for such a comprehensive control measure (study on this, for example ). "
“Rewarding positive behavior makes sense on an individual basis - for example, when committed, courageous behavior is recognized. But how should no-flying or little-flying be rewarded? The suggestion of pricing based on environmental costs, communicated as a reduction in subsidies, therefore makes the most psychological sense in the current situation. "
When asked to what extent constant symptom reporting leads to people turning a blind eye to the effects of climate change:
“What is being addressed here is the problem that problem reporting can not only raise awareness but also demoralize it. When climate prognoses become more and more dramatic over decades, and nobody takes it as an opportunity to change, then indirectly communicates: It won't be that bad. In this respect, a focus on problem reporting can even harm the willingness to change behavior and support policy. It is therefore important, in the interests of constructive journalism, that the problem information is always accompanied by options for action (such as switching to CO2-free electricity, avoiding meat, offsetting the climate impacts, energy advice and taking measures in one's own household) and problem-solving initiatives that have already started are shown / reported. But with the diverse Fridays for Future activities, we all now have the opportunity to participate in solutions. "
Dr. Immanuel thrust
Head of research focus on energy and climate protection in everyday life, Institute for Socioecological Research GmbH (ISOE), Frankfurt am Main
“People are ready to act in an environmentally friendly way when alternative courses of action are known and the effort involved in changing behavior is comparatively low. In addition, many of the behaviors with which we pollute the climate are tied to routines that we do not question in everyday life. Examples of this are the choice of transport or diet. A change in such routines requires knowledge, motivation and the opportunity to do something differently than before. "
“Politics shouldn't reward or punish. But it can make unwanted behavior difficult or even forbidden. For example, it can stipulate that from a certain point in time no more climate-damaging oil or gas heating systems may be sold. Homeowners who want to renew their heating can then choose between different technologies, for example heat pumps or pellet heating. The only difference is that systems that are particularly harmful to the climate are excluded. "
Dr. Bumpedgives the followingSources to: , .
“Even the actions of small groups can change societies. This is because of the feedback and reinforcement that occur in other parts of society in response to these changes. Such feedback can be reinforced by government action. The development of renewable energies in Germany initially emerged from the protest movement against nuclear power. After the introduction of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), in a few years it became a business area that covers a considerable part of Germany's electricity supply. "
Dr. Bumpedgives the followingSource to: .
Dr. Roland Quabis
Research assistant at the Chair of Social Psychology, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich (LMU), Munich
“Big personal changes in behavior against the climate crisis are still relatively unattractive for the individual. Acknowledging that one's own behavior has so far been fundamentally wrong and in some cases even ethically questionable would be a serious threat to self-esteem. In order to compensate for this, a form of implicit relativization of the threat of the climate crisis or of the diffusion of responsibility to other actors in society is often created. After all, your own contribution to the crisis is relatively minor. Often one waits for social role models to lead the way within society or in one's own environment and to ensure that behaviors that were previously outside the norm are generally accepted and normalized. Since even a morally undisputed new type of behavior can nevertheless be interpreted as a violation of social norms that has a threatening effect on the majority, this new type of behavior can also result in negative sanctions from the environment. Most efficiently, such behavior can be normatively established by persons or institutions who either already enjoy very high and undisputed authority in society, or who generally have a very high potential for identification. So these would be role models in which most people see a high level of resemblance to themselves or which they perceive as particularly likeable. To a large extent, it seems at the moment that the current climate models that are particularly present and that are advancing in this crisis tend not to represent classical authorities or, to a large extent, act like social outsiders who violate norms. "
Dr. Astrid Kause
Post-doctoral Researcher Energy and Climate Change Mitigation, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
“It helps individuals to better understand climate change and its effects when it is illustrated with events such as heavy rain, drought or storms - and not as a distant, abstract phenomenon . Such extreme weather events show that the climate is changing in the here and now . Extreme weather - and an increased risk perception of floods, for example, and the need to adapt to them - can even be independent of political orientation . Extreme weather can therefore be a 'window' to talk about climate change rather than portray it as a controversy. Other effects of climate change, such as global migration, are not yet well understood and should therefore be used very carefully to illustrate climate impacts. "
“Up until a few years ago, climate change was less of a 'crisis' than a politically strong issue and was seen primarily by more left-wing, environmentally-oriented, ie high-risk groups (own assessment). With the help of fundamental values and political orientation, it is often possible to predict how and whether individuals perceive climate change as a risk . These also shape, for example, political decisions as well as individual consumption, such as energy consumption. At the same time, climate and climate change are a challenge that is economic, ecological and social and therefore requires a profound change in our economic and social system [see 19]. Individually motivated changes in behavior are not enough, because we are heavily dependent on our behavioral context - these are the infrastructure that surrounds us, such as local public transport and also our social and cultural environment. At the same time, colleagues have emphasized that it is important to have a dialogue about the climate and the uncertainties associated with it, instead of conveying top-down climate facts - this increases confidence in climate knowledge, helps individuals to better understand uncertainty and helps to find sources of information, such as various online pages, better to classify . "
“How and when individuals change their behavior also depends on how 'easy' it is for them to understand the context of their behavior. Transparent communication on climate change and its causes must therefore be supplemented by simple decision rules that show how a goal can be achieved (so-called 'procedural knowledge', ). For example, the information that according to the IPCC, 24 percent of global emissions each year come from the agricultural sector, requires knowledge of how these can be reduced. Simple rules of thumb such as 'replace animal proteins with vegetable proteins' or 'buy seasonally' can help consumers both to change their own behavior and to better understand the corresponding political measures such as food taxes and make informed decisions about them . Describing these in consumer language instead of political jargon makes them even easier to understand. However, simply changing (risk) perception only makes a limited contribution to achieving collective behavioral changes (so-called 'knowledge-action gap', ). These are not only controlled by rules of thumb, but also by the decision context. For example, whether I choose a green versus a conventional energy supplier depends not only on the price, but also on which 'default' or basic setting I find, i.e. who my primary electricity supplier is when I move into a new apartment, for example . "
“How much the behavior of others influences our own behavior depends heavily on the type of behavior, so it can hardly be generalized whether there is a kind of social 'tipping point'. Decision research shows that we adapt to our environment in very different ways, depending on the respective context. Behaviors in which we react sensitively to others and in which they act as role models are, for example, energy or water consumption in the household . Even decisions that are not directly related to the climate can be predicted very well by the behavior of our direct social environment, such as voting decisions , perceived work stress or perceived average income of the population . People 'like us', with whom we are directly surrounded, often help us more in assessing risks such as climate change than those who are far away . It can therefore help to clearly communicate the existing social consensus in a country, for example on renewable energies (as shown again and again in large population surveys). This helps individuals who overestimate the negative effects of renewable energies on their immediate environment to realistically assess the positive effects . "
“In my opinion, there is not enough research into the role of the social environment on (consumption) decisions in the field of climate and environment to draw a clear conclusion - above all, which comparison group is relevant for which behavior. In addition to political attitudes, different cognitive mechanisms can potentially contribute to different behavior, and thus long-term social change, and to increasing political acceptance of climate policy. One can be the 'availability heuristic' - by reporting on the climate and the associated risks, these are better remembered and perceived as increasingly important. Another mechanism could be so-called 'spillover' effects - especially in the case of individuals with high environmental attitudes it is likely that if they make environmentally friendly decisions in one area, they will also do the same in others (for this I also refer to the research at CAST [ see I]). After all, these behaviors can be contagious in the social environment  - that is, my own behavior can be a direct or indirect role model, which in turn can continue like a 'silent post' chain. "
Dr. Kause gives the following further research sources: [I], [II].
Information on possible conflicts of interest
Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge: "There are no conflicts of interest."
Prof. Dr. Andreas Ernst: "There are no conflicts of interest."
Dr. Corinna Fischer: "I have no conflicts of interest."
Dr. Roland Quabis: "I am a member of Scientists4Future Munich and have already appeared for Scientists4Future's media statements."
All other: No information received.
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Further sources of research
[I] Center for Climate Change and Social Transformations: Our areas of focus.
[II] Online Research @ Cardiff (2017): European Perceptions of Climate Change. Six recommendations for Public Engagement.
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