Challenging the argument that we’re not designed to address climate change

In the face of a slow and inadequate global response to anthropogenic climate change, scholars and journalists frequently claim that human psychology is not designed or evolved to solve the problem, and they highlight a range of “psychological barriers” to climate action. Here, we critically examine this claim and the evidence on which it is based. We identify four key problems with attributing climate inaction to “human nature” or evolved psychological barriers: (a) It minimizes variability within and between populations; (b) it oversimplifies psychological research and its implications for policy; (c) it frames responsibility for climate change in terms of the individual at the expense of the role of other aspects of culture, including institutional actors; and (d) it rationalizes inaction. For these reasons, the message from social scientists must be clear—humans’ current collective failure to tackle climate change on the scale required cannot be explained as a product of a universal and fixed human nature because it is a fundamentally cultural phenomenon, reflecting culturally evolved values, norms, institutions, and technologies that can and must change rapidly.

Atkinson, Q., J. Jacquet (2021) Challenging the idea that humans are not designed to solve climate change. Perspectives on Psychological Science.