Why are people not motivated to act on climate change?
Many conferences are held about climate change. One is happening right now in Poland, organised by the United Nations. Country leaders, however, have to act on what they say. If nation states are not going to take immediate drastic action on climate change, there may be serious consequences in the coming years.
Why is it so difficult for people to act on climate change? Unfortunately, the change in climate involves a mix of factors that make it difficult to motivate people.
Action on climate changes requires finding a balance or compromise between short term benefits and those in the long-term – the most difficult compromise for people to make.
Ignoring climate change in the short term has benefits for both individuals and organisations. Individuals need not change the cars they drive, the products they buy or the houses they live in, if they ignored the impact their use has on the earth in terms of carbon emissions. Companies can keep their manufacturing costs down if they do not have to develop new processes to limit carbon emissions. Governments today can save more money by depending on energy generation methods that involve the burning of fossil fuels than by developing and strengthening clean energy sources, even those that are cost effective in the long term.
Many consequences of climate change are too remote for the majority of people. Research claims that people have very abstract ideas about issues that are psychologically removed from them than about issues that are psychologically close. Disasters caused by extreme weather that is probably caused by climate change often happen very far away from where the majority of people live. In consequence, most people are not forced to deal with the consequences that climate change brings about and treat it as an abstract concept. And abstract concepts do not motivate people to act like specific concepts do.
The future is always more unsure than the present. This is because people strongly value the present. After all, even if you save a great deal of money for your retirement, there is no guarantee that you will live long enough to enjoy it. In the case of climate change, sceptics maintain that it has not been proven that human activity will have the negative consequences that experts envisage.
While these factors all work against us, there is hope. Whether you are trying to involve yourself in activities that mitigate your impact on the climate or you are trying to convince others to act, there are things you can do.
To bring the future to the forefront of people’s minds, to start experiencing the impact of climate change on essential everyday activities, it helps to lessen the psychological distance. It is only when we all experience this threat to the future now in the present that we will have a sufficient motivational force to commit ourselves to do those things that at the moment take some effort, like use public transport instead of the private car or switch off the air-conditioning on a summer day.
We need to have the will to be explicit about the values that we are acting upon. When we choose to better our lives in the present to the detriment of the quality of life of future generations, this is a choice of values we rarely make in an explicit way. We need to look in the mirror and say that we are ready to live our lives egoistically, without any thought to our children and their children. If we are not ready to take this egoistic value on board, we need to make a change in our behaviour today.