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Behaviour change is not enough to tackle climate change, we need to rethink our priorities, say psychologists

17 July 2021

Approaching climate change solely as a behavioural issue and telling people to make sacrifices will not drive effective change, say psychologists.

In a keynote speech at the BPS' Division of Counselling Psychology conference, Professor Emeritus David Uzzell, a leading climate psychologist, will argue that we should see the climate crisis as an ‘opportunity to rethink our priorities’, rather than an issue where a sacrifice in an individual’s living standards is necessary to create change.

He will stress that rather than focusing on behaviour change, we must focus on creating societal change in a fair, caring way that encourages everyone to participate.

Emeritus Professor Uzzell says:

“Too often we are told that the solutions to climate change involve giving things up, through the lens of putting the environment ‘first’, and the self ‘second’. We know from psychological research that people regret a loss more than value a gain. Too often, behaviour change campaigns give the impression that will necessitate a sacrifice in individuals’ living standards, their happiness and their image of the ‘good life’.

“We need a vision that sees this crisis as an opportunity to re-think our priorities as a society and use the crisis as a springboard to actually better, more sustainable, just and happier lifestyles. Psychologists are well placed to help construct this vision. We need to look at this as a gain, not as a sacrifice.

“Instead of telling people what they should do to solve the climate crisis, psychology needs to look at how it can contribute to enabling people to find and realise their own solutions. This can begin with how we talk about climate change, because how we tackle climate change is strongly influenced by how we talk about climate change.”

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