Technische Universität Berlin

The Psychology of the Climate Crisis

Many do not see climate change as a real threat

New models for our lifestyle and therefore also new "role models" are needed, such as artists, playwrights, musicians, and other public figures. This was the agreement at the climate talk "Give the future a chance" held by the Climate Change Center Berlin Brandenburg on 5 November 2021 at the Natural History Museum.

During the event, Professor Dr. Elke Weber presented her current research findings and shared how psychology makes an important contribution to encouraging people to embrace a new lifestyle and change social norms. Weber, professor at Princeton University, is researching why many people do not yet view climate change as a real threat. Her findings could help reduce biases that are harmful to environmentally friendly decisions.

"Psychology, economics, and other social sciences play a key role in understanding decisions which impact our behavior towards the environment. This applies to broader, collective attitudes as well as individual and political decisions," says Weber. Elke Weber is conducting her research at Princeton University's Center for Policy Research on Energy and Environment (C-PREE), one of the many international partners from Great Britain, France, Kenya, India, Israel, and the USA which has pledged its support to the Climate Change Center.

Deconstructing barriers to change behavior

Elke Weber is a renowned scientific advisor at political level and was elected to the American National Academy of Science in early 2021. This honor can be attributed to her unique approach of combining psychological principles with behavioral changes and revealing how they impact environmental and economic policy as well as communication, management, and leadership models. Her research includes examining social and psychological barriers which prevent decarbonization, that is the reduction of CO2 emissions and CO2 in the atmosphere. One of her recent research projects on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology has shown in a demographically representative sample how little the public knows about CCS. "The results of this study are a sign," she says, "that the benefits of this promising technology must be better communicated to the public." The technology, which is key to achieving the USA's goal of zero emissions by 2050, is now entering the political sphere. However, in broad circles of the American public, it has not yet received nearly the recognition as an environmental technology that solar or wind energy has.

Identifying promising strategies

"A ban on building new coal and gas-fired power plants would subsequently garner more support than subsidies for CCS technology and accompanying tax increases that would allow unabated power generation." According to Weber, public support decreases as the cost of CCS deployment increases and minimum distance requirements from residential areas decrease. 

"Behavioral science can help us identify the most promising strategies to effect a change in social behavior," she says, "For example, leveraging social influence or making sustainable decisions the standard." 

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Author: Patricia Pätzold


This article was originally published in the December issue of the University magazine TUintern.