Psychology of Sustainability

Collective Positive Impact

09-28-2021

Many climate activists like Al Gore, Sir David Attenborough, and Greta Thunberg, along with non-profits, research, and social organizations, have successfully raised environmental awareness and made climate change mitigation a trend in many parts of the world. 

We praise each initiation for its determination, courage, and motivation of working toward the goal of guarding and protecting our precious and fragile home. It feels wonderful to have so many people standing fiercely to protect our present and future, if not for us, definitely for the sake of our children’s future.

Yet, more needs to be done. A different approach should be considered to help promote sustainability, climate change mitigation, and resilience: a positive approach.

In recent years, and with growing intensity, the potential outcomes of both our actions and that of climate change have alarmed and threatened us. Although the facts and data are all scientifically proven, frightening, intimidating, and very well advertised and promoted worldwide, there is still not enough action to take us away from the danger zone.

In this blog post, we introduce the positive approach as the most promising approach for promoting action and mitigating climate change.

While working on my Master of Science in Environmental Management in 2015-2017, I studied the science behind climate change, its status, and its immensity. While processing the information, I went back and forth between motivation and helplessness, between being inspired to make a difference and giving up because it’s “too late”. These fluctuations were highly dependent on the amount of negative versus positive information I was exposed to during my studies.

eampact is all about positive motivation and a ‘rolling up your sleeves’ approach.

According to Daniel Todd Gilbert, a social psychologist and writer, the human brain is a threat detector as long as the threat is made by agents (other people or creatures). Climate change is no such agent. On the contrary, when people are worried or scared but cannot manage the threat as it is out of their hands, they can enter a state of fixation. We need to make sure we don’t enter such a state. Instead, we need to be motivated and encouraged to take action. Adding anxieties and worries doesn’t motivate people.

People do not respond to theoretical, academically stated threats. People also do not respond to criticism in the way we would want them to. Criticism doesn’t call for action. 

The first recommendation in Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is to eliminate criticism if we wish to achieve anything, since it has no benefits other than making ourselves feel better. People that are being criticized are usually too busy defending themselves and their actions. Therefore, they are less likely to listen to reason or opinions different from their own.

To transition from a trend (hype) to an actual significant change, we may have a better chance with collective support and continuous positive feedback. What if collective positive feedback is the missing factor to inspire people? What if that missing factor can make people adopt a behavior that is thoughtful about their surroundings? What if it can motivate more businesses and organizations to move on to true sustainable policy and operations? Finally, what if it can eventually activate policymakers and government officials to change their priorities and act more quickly in response to climate change?

Tali Sharot, a behavioral scientist, found that there are strategies we can implement to change our behavior. Even as early as 2009, a handbook called The Psychology of Sustainability recommended the following strategies:

  • Positive Reinforcement: People need positive support in place of an emphasis on what they are doing wrong. Tali Sharot suggests: “Show the progress, not the decline.” 

We can do that! We can easily find an increasing number of positive actions that mitigate climate change, such as cleaning our oceans, tree-planting projects, raising awareness of sustainability measures, new eco-friendly technology, and the list goes on (we refer to many in our blog posts). We can also find many positive decisions and actions taken by our world leaders. 

We are aware that politics may get in the way of mitigating climate change, but what if instead of finger-pointing—which only furthers the divide, further politicizes climate change and derails us from our mission—we focus only on positive progress, even if only small step? 

For example, we found positive action taken by an administration that was considered anti-environmental: signing a bill to clean up ocean plastics, signing a bill protecting millions of acres of public lands, and announcing the U.S will join The Trillion Tree Initiative.

What if we highlight positive progress repeatedly and suggest different ways for improvement? According to research, this approach would be more effective than criticism.
 

  • Social incentives: We are social creatures, and we like to know what others are doing, learn from them, do the same, or do it slightly better. Positive actions taken by others can inspire us to continue towards reaching a mutual goal. 

Even politicians and leaders would benefit from examples of actions and policies led by other politicians and leaders. We believe in the benefit of commending and highlighting environmentally friendly leaders and their efforts, such as Helen Clark (New Zealand’s former Prime minister), Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore, former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, and many more. 

If those in leadership positions are informed of positive actions and policies taken and led by others to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, they might be drawn to take similar steps. 

 

We believe the best way to maintain and guarantee enjoyable, productive, safe, and sustainable lives is by sharing, praising, and repeating the positive progress that is already happening.

 

KEEP COOL. BUILD RESILIENCE. EAMPACT.

 

References

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