7 Ways Psychology Can Help Fight Climate Change (and How You Can Help)

Saving the planet isn’t up to environmental science alone. By harnessing what we've learned about behavior change and motivation, psychologists say they can play a big role (and so can you).

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Climate scientists have long agreed that the climate is warming and becoming more volatile, and human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are the main drivers behind these planetary changes. (NASA has a lot more details on this consensus.) Yet human behavior has been slow to change.

Psychologists study and attempt to understand what motivates people and how we think, feel, and act as groups and individuals. This knowledge can be put to use to change the behaviors that are ultimately problematic for our planet.

Yet, according to a report published in February 2022 by the American Psychological Association (APA), only a small number of psychologists include addressing climate change in their work.

The organization hopes to change that with its action plan for psychologists to address the climate crisis, the report notes.

1. Identify and Thwart Cognitive Biases That Stall Climate Action

Cognitive biases are ways of thinking and reasoning that don’t necessarily conform to logic, according to the Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience. They happen when our brains try to process information to make sense of something, and they influence our judgment, decision-making, and behavior. For example, you search for information that confirms what you already believe about something and accept that over other research or expert opinion on the topic.

2. Help People Align Their Environmental Values With Their Actions

Values clarification is a technique often used in therapy to help a person get a better understanding of their own values. Once someone is clear about their values, they can then examine how their choices and behavior match them (and when a person’s actions and behaviors align with what’s important to them, that ultimately leads to emotional well-being).

3. Make It Easier to Make Climate-Friendly Choices

“The way you present different choices can affect people’s likelihood of choosing a particular option,” says Susan Clayton, PhD, a professor of psychology at the College of Wooster in Ohio. Psychologists refer to the concept as “choice architecture.”

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