Various studies of public opinion regarding the causes and consequences of climate change reveal both a deep reservoir of concern, yet also a muddle over causes, consequences and appropriate policy measures for mitigation. The technique adopted here, namely integrated assessment (IA) focus groups, in which groups of randomly selected individuals in Switzerland looked at models of possible consequences of climate change and questioned specialists as to their accuracy and meaning, revealed a rich assembly of reactions. Respondents were alarmed about the consequences of high-energy futures, and mollified by images of low-energy futures. Yet they also erected a series of psychological barriers to justify why they should not act either individually or through collective institutions to mitigate climate change. From the viewpoint of changing their lifestyles of material comfort and high-energy dependence, they regarded the consequences of possible behavioural shift arising from the need to meet mitigation measures as more daunting. To overcome the dissonance created in their minds they created a number of socio-psychological denial mechanisms. Such mechanisms heightened the costs of shifting away from comfortable lifestyles, set blame on the inaction of others, including governments, and emphasised doubts regarding the immediacy of personal action when the effects of climate change seemed uncertain and far away. These findings suggest that more attention needs to be given to the social and psychological motivations as to why individuals erect barriers to their personal commitment to climate change mitigation, even when professing anxiety over climate futures. Prolonged and progressive packages of information tailored to cultural models or organised belief patterns, coupled to greater community based policy incentives may help to widen the basis of personal and moral responsibility.
Global Environmental Change – Elsevier
Published: Jul 1, 2001
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