Climate Change? We're So Bored with the Whole Issue; That's Why We Bury Our Heads in the Sand, Say Psychologists

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 17, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Climate Change? We're So Bored with the Whole Issue; That's Why We Bury Our Heads in the Sand, Say Psychologists


Byline: Sally Williams

FAMILIES and businesses across Wales are hiding from reality, maintaining a "psychological distance" from climate change because they believe it won't impact on them, academics claimed last night.

As world leaders prepare to gather in Copenhagen in three weeks to discuss a new climate protocol, psychologists claim the Welsh public has become "bored" with the ongoing debate over climate change's potential long-term and devastating consequences.

Dr Lorraine Whitmarsh, at Cardiff University, says her research shows people in Wales have become slow, or in some cases, reluctant to change their own comfortable lifestyles for the sake of the planet.

"The majority believe climate change will only affect people in other regions or future generations," said the psychology lecturer.

"Most people have not changed their behaviour in response to climate change; and few are willing to make significant changes to their lifestyle.

"In part, it is due to the characteristics of climate change - a risk issue which is complex, global and long-term. It challenges our fundamental assumptions about quality of life, progress and consumption, with uncomfortable implications which many prefer to ignore or deny."

Her research, she said, has found that the proportion of people who believe claims human activities are changing the climate are exaggerated has doubled within the last five years - from 15% to 29%.

This is despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) concluding that climate change is happening and that human actions are making a significant contribution to this change. And the influential Stern Report (2006), commissioned by the UK Treasury, concluded that the future costs of inaction with regards to climate change will actually be far greater than the costs of taking immediate action.

Chartered psychologist Martin Lloyd-Elliot, of the British Psychological Society, says the consequences of climate change around the world are so potentially devastating that it is a lot easier for people to simply not think about it.

"It is what we call resistance," he said. "This is a defence mechanism against a shocking reality. "Some people genuinely feel that the problem is so huge that there is nothing that they, as an individual, can do that will make any difference.

"Others feel that although they could make changes to their personal lifestyles, they feel that their friends and neighbours are not making enough lifestyle changes that could equate to a collective benefit.

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