My reading of the psychology with sustainability and climate action
I read regularly about different stories and startups in the space of climate action and sustainability. And there are clearly two camps: One who see the areas of unsustainability and are concerned that they will spiral out of control without an intervention, and the other who sees that a crisis is here and constantly measuring / tracking changes in the status quo either for better or worse.
Whether it is through financial solutions or energy transition or sustainable consumption, the critical psychological gate is the sense of interdependence. That individuals or single systems cannot solve a climate crisis on their own, and that it truly takes a global coalition to mobilise solutions to slash greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The scale of the crisis is also unlike anything that has been encountered. No textbooks or simulations were ever created to help individuals and groups understand that a problem of this scale could be a reality. So overwhelm, denial and indifference are default responses in the growing awareness of the crisis. If there were a playbook that was mass internalised, we’d see a different response. People genuinely don’t know how to react and default to socially conditioned responses.
The whole climate action and sustainability domain is dependent on replacing old habits with sustainable systems. Decades of unconscious production and consumption have to be unlearnt and alternate solutions need to be adopted at speed. Making the switch to solar, choosing a new electric vehicle instead of your favourite car brand, not purchasing plastic toys and instead buying wooden / digital alternates, and so on. All for the purpose of a better future and planet, and not the conditioned rationalisation of ‘what’s in it for me’. Easier said than done.
We’re all hard-wired to make decisions. The quality of those decisions is dependent on the quality of information and systems that surround us. With indifference and apathy being the general reaction, it’s very hard to psychologically convince yourself that your lone action will make a dent in the problem. So an internal dilemma is always at hand, until a sense of self leadership and social leadership takes over.
And lastly, there is very little results that can be expected to encourage anyone on the journey to sustainability, except a sense of faith that these solutions will mainstream and become the norm. The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is unlikely to drop below 400 ppm, since carbon stays in the atmosphere for a century. Forests can only capture a certain amount of the carbon at a specific time of year, and soil needs a fundamentally different treatment to generate a better topsoil. And we still have no large scale solution to the plastic pollution killing our biodiversity. One way to look at it - We’re all on a 30 year project where we’re trying to avoid things getting worse.
These were just some of my reflections on the psychology obstacles that we’re up against, as a domain. There may be more of course depending on which subdomain, like sustainable agriculture or recycling or industrial emissions. This is the hand we were dealt and we just need to play the heck out of it.