Attitude Change Working Group

NGO Working Group on Applying Social Science Expertise about Attitude and Behavior Change to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change

Co-ordinator Mary O’Neill Berry , Ph.D.   

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The Issue
The purpose of this working group is to review the successful procedures developed by sociologists and psychologists for changing attitudes and behaviors and apply these procedures in order to achieve mitigation of the effects of climate change. The implementation of these attitude and behavioral changes will lead to a reduction of change in climate and will increase resilience to the already present negative effects of climate change. Specific actions will be recommended that can be implemented by UN agencies, governments and civil society at large.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) challenged us to develop effective global responses to address climate change. The response necessitates changing attitudes and behaviors that will lead to the reduction of greenhouse emissions and the development of attitudes and behaviors that will strengthen people’s resilience in the face of the negative changes that are already occurring around the world, especially in developing countries.

The key element to mitigation is change of attitude and behavior of people in all the nations of the world whatever their status or role. The changes required are many and large: as the President of WFUNA, Hans Blix, recently stated: “Nuclear disarmament only requires twelve governments to change their ways; climate change, 6.5 billion people.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 2007). The social sciences (psychology and sociology) have been successful in developing theories and procedures for changing behavior and attitudes and this expertise is needed now to deal with the challenges of climate change. The effectiveness of social science theories and resulting practices is attested to by the changing attitudes and behavior toward such issues as smoking tobacco, HIV/AIDS, exploitation of children and women, etc. Our behaviors are related to our attitudes and our attitudes derive from our cognitions (our information, knowledge and experiences), our values (derived from our family, culture, education, religion) and rewards (that which bring us satisfaction, pleasure and the things we desire).