Mapping our underlying cognitions and emotions about good environmental behavior: Why we fail to act despite the best of intentions

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Abstract

Despite the widespread recognition of climate change as the single biggest global threat, the willingness of people to change their behavior to mitigate its effects is limited. Past research, often focusing on specific categories of behavior, has highlighted a very significant gap between people's intentions to behave more sustainably and their actual behavior. This paper presents a new approach to this issue, by using more open-ended questions to map a much broader range of cognitions and emotions about good environmental behavior. Two key findings emerged. Firstly, participants were aware of the contradiction between their level of concern about the environment and their willingness to act in more sustainable ways. The qualitative analysis further revealed that this discrepancy often hinged on a lack of knowledge about how to act more sustainably; the analysis also revealed a desire for more information about genuinely green behavior. Secondly, pro-environmental behavior was often conceptualized by participants in essentially "social" terms; anticipated emotions relating to sustainable/non-sustainable behavior were as closely tied to the behavior of one's peers as to one's own behavior. This finding suggests that we must highlight the social dimension in any interventions to increase sustainable behaviors amongst the public.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-224
Number of pages32
JournalSemiotica
Volume2017
Issue number215
Early online date6 Jan 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017

Keywords

  • climate change
  • cognition
  • emotions
  • environmental behavior
  • sustainability
  • value-action gap

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