Knowledge and action don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand when it comes to the climate crisis. Finding ways to convert an understanding of the issues into concrete actions is a topic academics are researching closely.
A team at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) have been studying people in three areas of Austria, ranging from rural to semi-rural and suburban, to better ‘understand how awareness about the need for climate change mitigation could be turned into action’. It discovered a strong understanding of climate change across all regions but divergent world views on where specific responsibility for action lies.
“Cultural theory says that there are four major worldview and discourses: hierarchical, egalitarian, individualistic, or anarchical,” said Nadejda Komendantova, an IIASA researcher. “For example, representatives of the hierarchical views would prefer the government taking responsibility for the energy transition. The egalitarian would say that everybody should be responsible for energy transition with the major arguments of fair and equal distribution of risks and responsibilities. The representatives of individual discourse would say that it is a matter of personal responsibility and that such things as technology, innovation, and compensation are important.”
This reality could help policymakers develop ‘compromise solutions that reflect these various worldviews’.
“There are a variety of views on energy policy, and conflicts among these views also exist,” added Komendantova. “In order to move from awareness about climate change mitigation to action we must understand the existing variety of worldviews.”
There is a growing body of research in this field that can help governments implement more impactful policies. Earlier this year researchers based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and University of Pennsylvania found an ‘intergenerational reciprocity approach’ could help mainstream climate-friendly habits.
While researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) looking at ‘behavioural adaptation to climate change’ point to the need for a systems-level strategy to adaptation where the focus is shifted away from individual responses to isolated incidents.
“Thinking holistically is part of what transformation research is all about – saying we have to work together to really think differently. We can’t all be individually running around doing our own thing. We need to think beyond the selfish individual who says, ‘What do I need to do to be better off?” said Robyn Wilson professor of risk analysis and decision science in OSU’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.
The scenes of panic buying linked to the current Coronavirus epidemic are a real-time example of the types of selfish behaviour characteristics that need to be transformed if humankind is to have any chance of collectively finding solutions to the challenges threatening its very existence.