Tag Archives: environment

How humanity saves the planet

Learned helplessness explains, more than psychological disorder, why those with high concern for the environment are not as engaged behaviorally. We learn helplessness when a problem feels too big, threatening, abstract–or remote. Abstractness correlates positively with psychological (spatial; temporal; experiential) distance.

When psychological distance is too great, our connection to things or people suffers. When we are disconnected from a situation, it holds no sway over our actions: we feel no will to improve it. The problem persists, and we lose the game.

How do we close psycho-environmental distance? Make a situation’s proximal features apparent. Show people how a global problem is local–perhaps even in their own cities. (Obviously, don’t create problems unnecessarily!)

The above is only one path to solving (e.g.) global climate change. Psychological distance can be bridged by appealing to people’s identities, foremost. These include their political values: liberals tend to show more innate concern for the environment; conservatives are moved more by appeals to, for example, purity.

Social identity is also important: when people feel part of a global collective, they are motivated to get pro environmental. Understanding the cultural psychology of motivation and behavior (conation) facilitates global sustainability. The world’s psychological diversity can then be leveraged to solve environmental problems, like climate change (or pre-societal coronavirus). Appealing to global social identification, pro-sociality (via viral altruism, e.g. social media sharing of good deeds), and distinct political values will help us understand the diverse cultural psychology necessary to leverage.

What does the “psychological diversity” just mentioned consist of? It consists of individualistic and collectivistic sociocultures, along with personality factors. Individualistic individuals are motivated more by personal belief, while collectivists are moved by social influence. Pro-environmental behavior correlates positively with the personality factors Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Openness (e.g., appreciation of aesthetics–i.e., that of nature).

We know–further–that values, beliefs, and “norms” are important for motivating pro-environmentalism. When people believe that their values are threatened, they become more likely to defend what they cherish. For many of us, this is the natural environment.

I’ve performed case studies of important environmentalists in Rachel Carson, Al Gore, Greta Thunberg, Wangari Maathai, and Chico Mendes. By focusing on how they have led their lives in inspiring and self-actualizing ways, I determined what made–and, in Al and Greta’s cases, makes–them unique leaders. My efforts fill a gap in environmental psychology, but this is not the only gap that exists. It will be up to us moving forward to uncover the specific links between the actions taken by an exemplary few with the global plan to preserve the natural environment.

It is up to all of us to do this!

Maslow on humanity and the environment

Self-actualizing people resist enculturation and are independent of their environments.

Taking Maslow’s theory further requires acknowledging the inherent limits of independence. Generally, we are born dependent on caretakers. As we grow older, we become more dependent on society for things like money (to fulfill children’s security needs), respect, and prestige. This comes with independence from our caretakers but dependence on a broader network.

Perhaps curiously, love is prior to self-esteem in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This suggests that while our need for love is more fundamental, it is also less fulfilling than the need or want for self-esteem.

Love is the bedrock of interdependence. Interdependence follows from independence–independence stems from dependence. Dependence is the root of our needs!

Being independent of the environment does involve transcending it. However–once we have done so–how do we treat the environment? Do we honor it as the substrate for all animals’, including our, existence? Or do we soil the soil we arose from?

The interdependent person accepts their place in our broader ecology. He and she trade strength with the environment equitably.

Self-actualizing collectives form from such individuals. Only these collectives can save Earth…so that they themselves can become worthy of salvation.