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The role of psychology in climate change debate

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Climate change can be best understood if climate itself is defined properly. Climate can be seen as weather; studied for a long time. It is with an understanding of climate; that we have seasons; and we know that it is supposed to be cold during a period of time during the year; and it is supposed to be hot during another period of time during the year. Thus climate change would mean that this trend of stability has become unstable; and is tending towards a particular direction.

This direction involves many concepts; but the most popular one is Global warming which is the increase in the average surface temperature of the Earth. While this might not be observable to a layman; scientists have gathered data that show that the surface temperature has been consistently increasing from decade to decade; and if the trend continues; there is going to be more and more reports of flooding. The flooding is due to the melting of the ice form which is characteristic of the water bodies at the Earth’s pole; this melting will result in increase in the volume of the sea; and resultant overflowing. Many coastal towns have been lost and washed away due to this phenomenon; and this phenomenon is different from Tsunamis, Hurricanes and Tornadoes; even though they are intertwined in the long run of the discussion.

The Debate

For decades, the issue of climate change has remained a debate. The main reason that climate change is a controversy is the fact that the policies that would result from pin-pointing and targeting the factors concerning climate change would result in drastic economic gains for some countries and drastic economic losses for others. This issue is not a national one; it is one that involves the whole world; for this reason; different scientists from each country are bound to analyse the issue differently (Hulme, 2009).

The major concern in the debate is the fact that different governments, nations, administrations; and corporate individuals perceive climate change differently; and have scientific backing of their assertions; though firmly rooted in bias. Even though these assertions are arguable; so is the Climate change phenomenon itself. What is arguable is not whether or not climate change is happening; but whether or not the  hanges are progressively catastrophic; or the Earth has intrinsic systems that would later regulate any imbalance; and consequently; whether the costs incurred in mitigation attempts; and economic consequences are justifiable. 

According to Tol, (2016); a wonderful attempt that would successfully quell climate change is to tax users of carbon fuels in a progressive way in order to gradually phase them out. He also argues that opponents to this policy keep attacking the loopholes in the research and keep discrediting the assertions that climate change is actually happening. This is because Climate policy is going to affect different subsets of the Earth’s peoples in diverse ways. The issue here is not whether climate policy is correct or not; but as to whether such actions are awfully  necessary giving the gaps in effects in terms of opportunity cost and economic effects. 

In the report of the Intergovernmental

Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC, 2007); there is evidence that the debate is now garnering a consensus; and there is need to take steps to avert the great dangers that climate change might pose in the coming years.

What Is Psychology’s Role?

Since humans are at the heart of taking responsibility for tackling climate change; then we are to consider that climate change is not a one man show. It did not start overnight and definitely cannot be successfully sidelined overnight. The cause of climate change can only be viewed correctly as accumulation of human behaviour; and therefore behaviour change has to be examined as a way out. This is what makes psychology germane in quelling both climate change and its impact.

First of all; these habits that constitute danger to the climate regulating systems; and global energy systems; have to be carefully analyzed in order to proffer effective ways of slowing down the process; or changing the pendulum swing in our favour. These habits will include deforestation; and more importantly emissions of green house gases; particularly carbon dioxide. The world that we live in is one where energy is very important; till date; the non-renewable energy industry still holds the largest share in the production of energy  sources; especially via fossil fuels (International Energy Agency, 2007). It is the burning of these carbon non renewable fuels that creates uprising in carbon dioxide in the air.

Myers & Kent, (2003) linked carbon emissions with energy consumption; and population growth. It follows that when people can afford it; and as the population grows; there is need to generate more energy for maintenance of affluent lifestyles.

For example; technology including gadgets, automated systems; all depend on power; on energy. All factories depend on machines which depend on energy; all machines use energy; and those who can afford the machines try their possible best to provide this energy; irrespective of the environmental effects. Prevalence of diesel power plants, gas power plants; electricity generating units based on fossil fuels that are operating 24/7 are an example of how energy consumption is at the heart of the matter. Hence affluence is associated with energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions; however, population is not necessarily a major factor in this mix; because a non-affluent population would incur very little energy consumption costs and emissions (Spence, Pidgeon and Uzzell).

There is need for careful analysis of behaviour change because the new behaviours might still relapse back in terms of high economic costs. While some psychologists have suggested this to be linked to materialism and happiness; others suggest that consumption is linked to culture and availability of resources (Tol, 2016) 

Having established the impact of consumption and lifestyle on climate change; there is need for research on perception of methods of decreasing consumptive habits; in terms of their effectiveness in terms of consequently maintaining our environmental preserve; rather than upsetting it; yet producing satisfaction; also research in different cultural trends that influence modes of environmental degrading behaviour (Newell and Pitman, 2010).

Psychologists are influential in this area; as it touches on human behaviour. This is due to the prevalent ignorance that pervades the public in terms of climate change; including bias based on lack of personal experience with the issue of climate change. Part of the problem is the other side of the debate; which might create the impression on the public that there is still a lack of consensus; and that the present one being spread should not be trusted.

A major role of psychology therefore is to help the action committee understand via research; the major biases and bases of mistrust of scientific information on climate change.  Alongside that is to model messages that address frequently asked questions about climate change and dispel myths and enlightens the public on the issues that concern them that were not even envisaged from the get-go (Newell and Pitman, 2010).

Seeing that there is a lot of buttress on unifying climate change messages; it will become obvious that meetings and conferences and talk shows will not do the magic; that each party; each human will have to play certain roles towards

environmental preservation. There should be ways to ensure this behaviour being sustained; in terms of reinforcement. This reinforcement will be analyzed by psychologists and policy makers to come up with taxes, laws, sanctions and incentives that will keep the prevalence of environmentally degrading behaviour to the minimum; and pave way for new lifestyles that conform with this message being spread (Spence, Pidgeon and Uzzell).

Since climate change has come to stay; and is gaining more evidence; there is need for more research; especially since the clamour for alternative energy; and carbon taxes is still going to be met with a lot of opposition; there is need for both the scientists and the policy makers to come up with affordable ways of changing the face of energy consumption without necessarily crippling the economy in the process.

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