UNSW: Psychological Distance is Not Necessarily a Barrier to Climate Motivation

Essay by Eric Worrall

The Australian Psychological Society argues psychological distance can be a barrier to climate action. But UNSW professor Ben Newell counters that the evidence is unclear.

Most people already think climate change is ‘here and now’, despite what we’ve been told

Published: April 22, 2023 1.01am AEST
Ben Newell
Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Director of the UNSW Institute for Climate Risk and Response, UNSW Sydney

A review of the evidence

To investigate how prevalent psychological distance to climate change really is – and whether it might prevent climate action – the researchers systematically reviewed the available evidence.

First, they analysed data from 27 public opinion polls from around the world – including China, the US, UK, Australia and the EU – finding that most people perceive climate change as happening now and nearby. And this was not just in recent polls. Data from as far back as 1997 indicated almost half of US respondents believed climate change was already occurring. 

Second, based on an analysis of past studies, they found people who perceive climate change as more distant do not necessarily engage in less climate action. Indeed, some studies have shown the opposite pattern. People who perceived climate change as affecting people in far-away locations were more motivated to support climate action. 

In short, the evidence for the idea that psychological distance is preventing us from climate action is very mixed.

Third, after examining 30 studies, the team found very little evidence that experiments aimed at changing people’s perception of the psychological distance of climate change actually increase their climate action. For example, studies where people watch videos about the impacts of climate change in local versus distant locations do not show these people having different intentions to engage in environmental behaviour.

Read more: https://theconversation.com/most-people-already-think-climate-change-is-here-and-now-despite-what-weve-been-told-203425

I suspect the hidden variable which muddies the evidence is how well informed and intelligent their test subjects are.

Aussie bush fuel loadAussie bush fuel loadAussie bush fuel load
A tinderbox waiting for a spark – photo taken 5 mins from my home.

For example, if I was to participate in a climate psychology study, and if I saw a film claiming climate change was making wildfires more prevalent in my area, I wouldn’t be persuaded by the climate argument, I would be furious at the attempt to deflect blame for incompetent land management. My response to the film being shown by psychologists or climate propagandists would be tempered by my personal knowledge of local conditions. The hidden variable in my case would be my awareness of the substandard local efforts to reduce fuel load and mitigate fire risk, and the futility of attempting to reduce fire risk by stepping up irrelevant green activities, such as more conscientious recycling of household trash.

On the other hand, if I was a climate believer, a picture of a suffering polar bear would be as likely to trigger me as a much more immediate and personal alleged climate problem. If I was a believer, if I was already predisposed to viewing climate propaganda films through the lens of a preconception that most weather disasters were evidence of the unfolding climate disaster, I would see both remote and personal images equally as compelling evidence that we were running out of time.

The only real solution to making all this climate propaganda work is to remove the hidden variable, to shut down skeptical voices, to shut down attempts to provide alternative explanations of alleged climate disasters such as increased forest fire risk. But alarmists already know this, that is why they keep trying to censor us. Alarmists have admitted in public that they cannot win, so long as anyone is allowed to publicly disagree with their narrative.

via Watts Up With That?


April 22, 2023 at 01:01AM

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