Hello dear readers!
Nice to see you again! ^-^
In my first post, I asked, “What will it take to get people to save the Earth?” At the root of this question is a quest to change human behaviour.
But first, let’s drop the notion that we don’t like change. The book Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard argues that we do welcome changes of many kinds, such as having children (C. Heath & D. Heath, 2010, p. 4). Here’s another example: travelling.
Why then do we find it so difficult to change our environmentally-damaging actions?
Switch provides some explanation by highlighting three overlooked aspects of change-demanding situations (p. 17-18). Though not specific to the environmental crisis, their relevance can be seen in some survey results I collected this week, and I will introduce them accordingly.
My survey’s first question asked respondents to indicate their environmentally-friendly practices. The results will come in handy soon:
Next question: “What factors do you think enabled you to adopt such practices?” Convenience was mentioned 14 times in 56 responses. Not much, but that’s only half the picture.
Subsequently, the survey asked what factors respondents thought prevented them from picking up environmentally-friendly practices. The most frequently cited factor? Inconvenience – 29 times in 56 responses. The similar idea of discomfort or a lack of habit was second – 17 times.
Going back to the first question’s results, the numbers make sense. Arguably, abstaining from meat products and managing compost is more inconvenient and easy to give up on, as compared to switching off the lights and fans and reusing paper.
These challenging, non-habitual tasks require more energy and self-control, deterring people from adopting them. Switch (p. 9-12, 17) sums this up with:
“What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”
The third prevention factor was a lack of knowledge on how to carry them out. A respondent linked this directly with composting: “not widely done so not sure how to start/maintain it.” Switch (p. 15-17) explains this as:
“What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”
Finally, respondents were asked if they thought it was hard for society to save the environment, and why. A majority of them voted “yes” to the first part.
Some explained with generalisations about people’s intrinsic values: “most individuals in society only care about their own benefits/costs.” Others described more realistic, external factors: “Lack of infrastructure that makes a sustainable lifestyle more feasible,” “supermarkets still use a lot of plastic packaging… plastic bags are free of charge.”
Based on what we discussed about climate change deniers, the internal qualities of a person aren’t always at fault. Switch (p. 1-3, 18) highlights this with:
“What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.”
Most of the book then covers a three-part method for creating change on any level, based on the three quoted points above. It’s targeted at people who don’t have the power to command others and enact laws and policies. How we can apply their method to make progress in our eco-quest will come soon.
Until the next post, thanks for reading!
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York, NY: Broadway Books.