Sign in a forest showing two different options for a difficult hike

Difficult choices

Human psychology may also be an obstacle to quick action

Many studies have shown that we have limited willingness to make sacrifices now in order to gain bigger rewards in the future.

Subconscious biases may also affect us. If things are so bad, we may think, why isn’t someone doing something about it? This may reflect widespread mistaken assumptions about the thoughts or beliefs of other groups (a phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance).

Or we may recognise that something needs to be done but believe that there is little we can do. We may even stray into the territory of cognitive dissonance, where two competing ideas – ‘Because of climate change I should change my lifestyle’ and ‘I want to protect my quality of life’ – come into conflict.

To resolve this tension, we may reject one of these ideas – perhaps that climate change is a major threat. This in turn may lead to confirmation bias – taking note only of evidence that supports a pre-existing belief – or denial. People may end up making further bad choices for the sake of consistency, rather than learning from mistakes.

Lead image:

Sasquatch I/Flickr CC BY


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Psychology, Neuroscience, Ecology and environment
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development