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.

The meat industry is doing exactly what Big Oil does to fight climate action

My Op-Ed in the Washington Post.

Some climate scientists and activists fear that food issues might distract from efforts to curb fossil fuel use; certainly, meat and dairy companies would prefer to keep the spotlight on energy and transportation. But even if we stopped using fossil fuels entirely, the current emissions from the global food system would make the climate goals of the Paris agreement difficult, if not impossible, to reach. The U.S. pledge to the Paris agreement makes just one reference to “farm animals” and not a single reference to “meat.”

Animal welfare risks of global aquaculture

The unprecedented growth of aquaculture involves well-documented environmental and public-health costs, but less is understood about global animal welfare risks. Integrating data from multiple sources, we estimated the taxonomic diversity of farmed aquatic animals, the number of individuals killed annually, and the species-specific welfare knowledge (absence of which indicates extreme risk). In 2018, FAO reported 82.12 million metric tons of farmed aquatic animals from six phyla and at least 408 species—20 times the number of species of farmed terres- trial animals. The farmed aquatic animal tonnage represents 250 to 408 billion individuals, of which 59 to 129 billion are vertebrates (e.g., carps, salmonids). Specialized welfare information was available for 84 species, only 30% of individuals; the remaining 70% either had no welfare publications or were of an unknown species. With aquaculture growth outpacing welfare knowledge, immediate efforts are needed to safeguard the welfare of high-production, understudied species and to create policies that minimize welfare risks.

Citation: Franks, B., C. Ewell, J. Jacquet (2021) Animal welfare risks of global aquaculture. Science Advances 7:eabg0677.

Farmed salmon in Scotland face numerous welfare concerns, including outbreaks of flesh-eating sea lice. Photo credit: Corin Smith.

The US Response to COVID-19 and Climate Change Endangers the Country and the World

Dale Jamieson and I co-wrote a commentary for One Earth on similarities between the U.S. positions on COVID-19 and climate change.

The US does not need to lead the world, but it does need to act as a good citizen. This requires at a minimum re-engaging with the Paris Agreement and supporting the WHO. Whereas there are 300 million Americans and 7 billion potential victims of a global pandemic and climate change, there is only one earth that we all must share.

An evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organization at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs


Independent onboard monitoring of fishing activities is important in an era of marine animal overexploitation and declining fish populations. Fisheries observers have traditionally filled this role to varying capacities. Their work is critical to fisheries managers because observers collect data on, for example, catch composition, discard and by-catch policy compliance, and transshipment activities – data that would otherwise be unreliable if collected from other sources. However, fisheries observers have been subject to human rights and safety violations, including intimidation and assault, and many observers have even disappeared from their vessel assignments. In some cases, remote electronic monitoring (REM) has been deployed to complement or substitute for human observers. This study is the first comparison of existing at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs for 17 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), the main institutions that currently exist to manage and conserve fish on the high seas or straddling high seas boundaries. Currently only three RFMOs mandate 100% observer coverage on fishing vessels, and no RFMOs mandate 100% at-sea monitoring coverage using REM. Moreover, no RFMOs mandate full transparency of either human observer or REM data. In addition, no RFMOs include regulations to sufficiently ensure the protection of fisheries observer rights and safety, and only four RFMOs mandate a specific process in the event that an observer disappears or dies. RFMOs are well positioned to mandate comprehensive, independent, and transparent monitoring coverage onboard fishing vessels by utilizing a complementary approach of human observers and REM. This would help ensure better management of fisheries as well as better protection of marine ecosystems and human rights at sea.

Citation: Ewell, C., J. Hocevar, E. Mitchell, S. Snowden, J. Jacquet (2020) An evaluation of Regional Fisheries Management Organization at-sea compliance monitoring and observer programs. Marine Policy 115: 103842.

Watch over Antarctic waters

Commentary led by Cassandra Brooks, and also David Ainley, Peter Abrams, Paul Dayton, Robert Hofman, and Donald Siniff at Nature.

In a rapidly changing climate, fisheries in the Southern Ocean must be managed cautiously…

Read it here.

Asad Raza’s Weekend Guests: Jennifer Jacquet


As part of Root sequence. Mother tongue (2017), Asad Raza’s show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, he invited series of guests to occupy the installation with choreographic, musical, and intellectual events for weekend visitors to the museum. Comprising mentors, friends, and younger creative practitioners, the group is a plurivocal portrait of the artist’s community. Asad Raza and Jennifer Jacquet discuss octopus, fish, shame, climate change, and other things.

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