climate change psychology

Head in the crowds

We talk with Prof Marc Wilson of Victoria University of Wellington. Why is there such a gap between science and people who don’t believe in climate change? Psychology. Marc says that what we believe, we believe for a reason, and in this case a lot of disbelief can be linked to views on hierarchy versus equality, and orientation to authority. And this leads to entrenched positions that can’t be overcome with more facts. He says that we’ve probably saturated the market of people who will be convinced by facts.

So how can we make a difference? Marc points to changing the way we communicate “what kind of world do you want to live in in 50 years?”.

Marc is encouraged by the crowds that turned out for School Strikes for Climate. He says the very act of coming together with like-minded people is an accomplishment. Despite criticism, marchers shouldn’t feel guilty because they are carrying a mobile phone, or wearing a plastic jacket – they are part of systems that will take a long time to change, and that calls for perfection are intended to be dis-empowering. So rather than aiming for perfection, it is OK to aim for good.

Definition: Language of sustainability has been misused. Need to describe in terms of passion and energy.

Success: Students

Superpower: Tenacity, thick skin (Brian Dixon says he should have said communicator).

Activist: Increasingly. Did think that soience had to be objective, but now realises that everything is value-laden and to pretend otherwise is to do science a disservice.

Motivation: Sense of obligation. But not hard as every day exciting and different. We (university) everything has to change because the students do.

Challenge: Ongoing research into adolescent self-harm

Miracle: Emotional skills curriculum

Advice: Aim for good.

Marc was in Dunedin to speak as part of NZ Psychology Week “Living Life Well”. His talk The Elusive Climate Consensus:If it’s so obvious, why doesn’t everyone believe (or not) in climate change?

business education innovation maori psychology

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

To say that Mana Forbes has a background in education and IT is a massive understatement.  He worked on computers when they had whole rooms, and is heavily involved in education including Te Wananga o Aotearoa, including Te Mana Whakahaere Council, Hamilton Raroera Campus Manager, Foundation Director Te Arataki Manu Korero (Elders traditional knowledge Diploma Course), Foundation Manager Te Puna Rangahau Iwi Research, Foundation Trustee Aotearoa Scholarship Trust, Foundation Executive Member of Te Runanganui o Ngati Hikairo, and the Foundation Licensee of the first Early Learning Centre Raroera Te Kakano.    His educational philosophy is one of empowerment based on capabilities and an understanding of self and purpose.  He is now working with Minded to bring these resources he has developed to the mainstream.


Talking points

Opening the door to participation

Looking and thinking: we don’t need to be the same.

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

Nurturing the desire to care

Developing a sense of responsibility

Celebrating success

Fulfilment of your exit strategy

Cries we should be following are those of young people left by wayside of schools operating on a paradigm of one, without communication and relationship

Project-based learning: whole of person and guide them through

Get it out there – at scale

Sustainability: Replenish

Success: Minded.  The development of the course, I think the direction of what we are teaching is so important for today’s learning, and so important for preparing people for living and communication and working relations.

Superpower: My ability to connect the dots and work alongside with other skilled people.

Activist: In some regards yes, the areas that I have passion for I will embarrass myself and people around me and thump the table to make a change, I don’t want people walking out the door thinking that I wasn’t passionate about this particular purpose.

Challenge: Trying to get the establishment and trying to work with the government structure and understand their way of thinking.

Miracle: For the ministry of education saying that we realise the benefits of this and we need to have this in all of our high schools and middle schools.

Advice: If you can make a difference, work out what that might mean to you, your family and the wider community.

psychology sociology

Interdisciplinary approaches to complex societal and global problems


The value of interdisciplinarity is that most of the complex societal and global problems that we are facing can not be resolved or even ameliorated from a single vantage point.

Professor Dan Stokols is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus in University of California Irvine’s School of Social Ecology. We talk about the transdisciplinary, multi-level, and empathic nature of Social Ecology.

Talking points

Expose students to many vantage points, and teach them how to connect those different analytic perspectives

Three legged stool we were founding our programme on, first the ecological paradigm with all its conceptual and methodological implications – that is you look at problems from a very broad contextual perspective at different levels of analysis from gnomic to societal or global; the second leg is interdisciplinarity, we were committed to training students in an explicitly interdisciplinary way – so that when they framed problems they would not embrace the orthodoxy of one particular field or one level of analysis, but they would be flexible and able to move across different levels and be receptive to different disciplinary points of view; and the third leg of the school was application to policy and community intervention – what today is called translation to practice, translating scientific knowledge into practical strategies to improve the world.

The value of interdisciplinarity is that most of the complex societal and global problems that we are facing can not be resolved or even ameliorated from a single vantage point. They are complex, they have multiple origins or causes, they manifest at different levels, from individual organisational levels to community and societal levels. So to tackle those kinds of problems, it is important for students, researchers, practitioners to bring a broad multi-level, cross-disciplinary perspective where they’re able to span and integrate a lot of different fields. Now, there are some problems in science and society that can be solved quite nicely by disciplinary specialisation…for example vaccine development…but the social ecology comes in when you can have a wonderful new technology developed by one field…but when it needs to be integrated into society you need a broader model for how to facilitate that.

If we want to cultivate a transdisciplinary orientation in a student or a scholar, there are certain values that underlie that orientation – for example inclusive, being tolerant of other perspectives, not rejecting things that are different or foreign to what you are used to things about. Also there are attitudes and beliefs. If people believe that it’s way too time intensive to do interdisciplinary work, and they can be more effective working individually on smaller and more focussed problems, then that’s an attitude that will make it difficult for them to thrive in a large cross-disciplinary team environment. Then there are behaviours that reflective of a transdisciplinary orientation – such as reading material outside your main field of training, or going to conferences outside your main field, or getting together often with colleagues from different fields to integrate and share ideas. Finally, there is a conceptual or analytic stance – how people frame problems. What we try to focus on in social ecology is how would we train a student to think systemically, to look at the multiple levels of a problem – to be able to traverse those and be adept at doing that. How would we train them to think ecologically, so that they see that a problem is science or society may have roots in biological processes, in material geographic properties, it may be an economic phenomena…in other words the roots of complex problems may lie in several different fields.

Wicked problems are vexing because there are no easy clear solutions to them.

One of the attributes of wicked problems is that they are so intertwined with other problems, in other words, you cant identify the core wicked problem, but it’s wicked because it cross penetrates other problems that are related to it. Rather than taking a reductionist approach to a wicked problem it seems that the only hope to getting a sense of the multiple roots and manifestations is thinking more broadly – it’s patterns of wickedness, the ways in which different problems are synergistic that becomes vexing.

Climate change is pretty wicked…I don’t know whether the behavioural potential is sufficient to get us out of this predicament

Psychology in an age of crisis.

We’re going to need behavioural and social innovation for greater sophistication.

As humans we haven’t been very good at curbing some of those destructive impulses.

People get overwhelmed by the enormity of the environmental and social problems we’re facing. They see not only occasional references to these things, but through the internet and multimedia they’re seeing tsunamis and the terrible destruction that they can cause, real time. They’re seeing terrorism, and the aftermath of terrorism, and war and brutality, we’ve become so immersed in media coverage of these problems that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel that there’s nothing an individual can to try to be more sustainable, to try to promote civility…a learned helplessness in thinking about global problems.

We are in an age of crisis and psychology is important in trying to understand what are the bases for people’s tendency to give up on these problems, and how can we reverse those tendencies and get people more engaged in a collective active effort to stem those problems?

There’s a certain amount of defensive neglecting – trying to get problems such as climate change out of our awareness because they are just too disconcerting to think about them.

Whether we can reach Anthropocene 2.0 and pull that off, is anybody’s question.

We’re all in this together, no matter what area of the globe we live, but humans haven’t proven themselves to be very effective at political cooperation across borders. Our social limitations are just as important to address as our technological limitations.

Slow collapse suggests processes are happening so gradually, an almost invisible way, and yet there are tipping points where processes accelerate very rapidly

Social ecology in the curriculum – a missing systemic view of the world, we need to broaden the curricula. we need students to think broadly about the environment, and the way that different phenomena are interrelated, rather than encouraged too early to pursue a narrow curricula box.

We need to enable students to think in more innovative and broad ways about the world around us.

Social problems…high school students should be exposed to some of the underpinnings of violence – racism, poverty…

People in the top 1% of income bracket – global change may not seem as threatening. They may feel that they are insulated from it – they can always go to higher ground, or more luxurious ground, buy the water the need. But in fact, we’re all so interconnected that it’s really a mirage. A mirage for affluent people to think that way. The whole infrastructure is something they’re dependent on and if that collapses, they’re just as vulnerable. Certainly the poor are more vulnerable, they don’t have the buffers of income and affluence, but ultimately even the 1% need to take into account the protection of the earth’s ecosystems and equality.

Sustainability: many different definitions…one definition concerns preservation of resources for future generations so that the current generation doesn’t over consume…a quantitative assessment of the resources we have against global footprint of the current generation. Other definitions embrace the idea of equity and equability – sustainability for whom? for which groups? what’s being sustained? Many definitions prioritise the idea that sustainability preserves and takes care of the most vulnerable in society, whether that be be women, or people living in poverty, or minority groups often suffering from prejudice. So a combination of resource management and fairness, distributive justice and fairness.

(Intergenerational equity) a kind of visioning process, whereby imagined or projected needs of that population, those future generations are brought to the table.

As our world population grows fairly soon at 10 or 11 billion people, what would it feel to be living on a hotter, drier planet with so many more mouths to feed? How can we crack some of those challenges. So in some ways, our decisions need to be made as if we are already there. How would those more severe constraints shape our decisions?

I’m at times an optimist, at other times I’m less optimistic when I see the capacity of people to hurt each other. That bothers me because the climate change is going to require cooperation, some altruism. It’s going to require empathy. I would like to see more of that in the world.

We have to get our social and behavioural house in order before before we have a prayer of effectively tackling the environmental and technological problems we’re facing today.

(Success?) I really value my teaching. I value my research too, but when I see students in my classroom getting excited about ideas, and they leave a course wanting to do some good things in the world – that for me is a momentum for changing the world.

(Activist?) There are ways that I have been activist, in working to translate some of the research that I’ve done into guidelines for improved policy, public health. As far as environmental movements or at the frontlines of those, I haven’t been as active that way, but I’ve tried to be at the interface of research and scholarship, and the translation of some that into strategies that might improve public health, or urban design or environmental management

(Motivation?) Joy in my family. building a non-traditional interdisciplinary unit. Thinking freely.

(Challenges?) Working on a book on principles of social ecological analysis. Continuing my research into understanding the circumstances that enable cross-disciplinary teams to work effectively together to create integrate knowledge, to create transdisciplinary innovations that have a positive effect on society.

(Miracle?) I’d love to see major illnesses cured. Effects of global climate change reversed. I’d like to see more peace in the world, and less conflict, war and posturing in ways that have potential to create havoc.

(Advice?) If we to have any hope of resolving some of the problems we’ve been talking about at global level, it’s going to require individuals thinking broadly, acting cooperatively with each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt – rather than being too judgemental or quick to criticise – I do think that so many of our problems are rooted in this proclivity for conflict and competition. So think as broadly as possible, give fellow humans the benefit of the doubt – everyone’s having a challenging existential existence, trying to get through their day so if we could all support each other that would be very valuable.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

climate change politics psychology

Increasing IQs but bewildered in a complex world

Jim Flynn

Despite our increasing IQ, the bombardment of conflicting information combined with a paucity of training in critical thought renders us bewildered cynics, unable to manage our increasing complex world

Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago James (Jim) Flynn researches intelligence and is well known for his discovery of the Flynn effect, the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores.  His research interests include humane ideals and ideological debate, classics of political philosophy, and race, class and IQ.   His books combine political and moral philosophy with psychology to examine problems such as justifying humane ideals and whether it makes sense to rank races and classes by merit.  Flynn campaigns passionately for left-wing causes, and became an initiating member of both the NewLabour Party and of the Alliance.   He is currently working on a book on climate change.

Our fundamental question to Prof Flynn is if people are getting smarter, how come we’re making such a mess?

Talking points:

We are seeing a gain in ability to solve cognitively challenging problems in an increasingly complex world around them.

Universities are failing to train critical thought.

I intended studying maths, but I realised it was too much like chess – an interesting diversion.  To engage in real problems that mattered, the hard ethical problems I moved to political philosophy.

Young people are being bombarded with information, without the tools to manage this they are turning off, becoming cynics – less politically active, less informed.

Young people today are no more liberated than a medieval serf.  A medieval serf didn’t have the equipment to think beyond what society told him, these young people may be cynics, but they don’t have the conceptual skills and the information and the historical depth to their thinking to really counter the modern world.

It’s a very bewildering world if you cant find any guideposts to find your way through it.

Universities aren’t giving a critical toolset – you know a lot about spanish literature, or geography or torts, but then you are let loose on the world without a trained mind to analyse it.

One of the chief confusions among students is they are being given conflicting information on climate change – perhaps the greatest issue of our time.

Today with globalisation, climate change we have infinitely more complex issues in the past…today we are menaced by problems that we weren’t in the past

Many things disillusion you when you study climate change,  I have always preached against materialism – that is defining yourself by your possessions, and I continue to do so, because every one of them that doesn’t want a 10,000 sq foot house and a new car every year and wants to serve people, be humane, every one votes with their feet, the more of those people there are, the better of we’ll be. On the other hand, climate change may well derail the world in terms of industrial productivity.

If only I could turn everyone into a humanist…

If you reconcile yourself to the fact that the first world is not going to share with the third world, and the only way that people are going to come out of poverty is that industrialisation keeps marching on and some of it manages to filter its way into the third world, you’re in the ludicrous position of saying that I want the world’s gross national production to continue to increase over the rest of this century. It’s not my ideal but its the only way I can see…we need to get nations in Africa/SE Asia to adopt middle class aspirations…or else we’re going to breed ourselves out of space.  So despite my anti-materialism, I want the industrial machine of the world not to fall apart.  I would prefer that there is industrial progress, that filters into Africa,and gives them the aspirations that means we won’t have this terrible population explosion.

Everyone wants a growth economy, no one wants to see their standard of living diminish.  The only way you can have a growth economy is to freeze temperature at its present level through climate engineering, to stop emissions increasing over the next 50 years, and then at about the 50 year point(because we won’t be able to hold it forever), and make sure that by then we have moved to a more…cleaner and more equitable society.

You can’t exploit the earth forever.

Am I optimistic? No.  I feel there’s a chance.  I’m presenting a third way that means you could at least write scenario that would get us out of this mess.  Clean energy by 2050, do away with carb0n based fuels by 2100,  hold the temperature down in the meantime with climate engineering, thanks to industrial progress in the meantime that has set Africa on the way to middle class aspirations to peak our population.  There are a lot of ifs in there aren’t there!  But at least it’s coherent and better than what we’re doing.  What we are doing is just crazy – there’s no chance at all of this working.

You can’t work for an ideal until you know what is possible.




computing design psychology

Designing for people

Some technologists want to create a seamless future…I ‘m not one of those, I think it’s useful that parts are nubby – some parts leave room for error or space for adjustment, some room for learning behaviour.

Han Pham is Future Cities Experience Strategist, at the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities.


Talking points:

If you only ask users about your product, they’ll only tell you about your product – we need to be able to step away from the screen.

Before we bring in our life-changing solution, we have to realise that people survive without it – this can be uplifting and challenging together.

We’re designing for how people behave, at an individual level but also considering what does this mean at the community level?

Sometimes you want to make it invisible, sometimes you want to see detail

Sometimes you ask people about the future, and they think about the future as inevitable and they think about it as this glossy surface thing that’s going to come their way whether they like it or not, and it’s not very porous – there’s not a lot of transparency. People are frightened by this – there’s a sense of helplessness.

We are not just designing things, we’re designing how people learn. If we can create frameworks for how they understand something – with frameworks that are sticky and that work for them – builds an expectation of how things should work. We can make use of that learning window so products and services can change how people think.

Users don’t necessarily want to carry an identity card that says ‘I’m a sustainable person’…they are them

Incremental changes can be a sea-change.

Sometimes a sea-change is finding a pattern of behaviour that not only the lead adopters are going to adopt

(are you an activist) Yes, I say to technology companies, people have a place.

business psychology tourism

psychology of humanitarian work

Dr Steven Atkins leads research at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Business. He tells a tale of childhood dreams of space flight leading to an astronomy degree, rocket launchpads, a Masters in engineering and a PhD in industrial psychology. Unease with a focus on optimising work for the corporate ethos, Dr Atkins has been instrumental in the development of humanitarian work psychology. This emerging field reflects an increasing humanist perspective that includes study of the psychology of poverty. Major projects include undergraduate voluntourism, online volunteerism, SmartAid, and Consultants without Costs.

Shane’s number of the week: 4.1 million square kilometres. This is the lowest extent ever recorded for Arctic sea ice. Things are changing. Fundamentally.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Prompted by British American Tobacco’s retrograde approach to marketing with Sam has made a web2.0 companion site

Trainspotting: Three Sustainable Lensers in studio – together – wow.


Dr Niki Harré

We do this show because for us it is a flow activity. For us sustainability is about telling tales of joy. It is enriching, enhances our identities, and we get to meet awesome people. We can describe it in these terms because this week our guest is psychologist Associate Professor Niki Harré (actually the “meet awesome people” bit she would probably describe as building and affirming networks, but you get the picture). She describes the psychological basis for a positive approach to sustainability.

Associate Professor Niki Harré has taught social and community psychology at the University of Auckland for twelve years. Her recent research projects have focused on sustainable communities and schools, positive youth development and political activism.

If we were Oprah we would get everyone to read Niki Harrré’s book. “Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability” is a must-read. You can download it (for free), but first listen to this interview. Also free. And share it with all your friends. That’s free too, and will affirm your identity in a positive way.

Shane’s number of the week: 400,000. The number of signatures required for a citizen’s initiated referendum on asset sales.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: Over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing from international guests from the recent CHI conference. CHI is Human Computer Interaction, and the sustainability crowd at the conference have fascinating contributions.

Trainspotting: Sam’s favourite line from Niki’s lecture earlier in the week was “the scientific language of uncertainty leaves a vacuum into which our identify rushes”. His Mum (also a PhD) wrote down “tales of joy”.