The Scottish-American naturalist and environmental-philosopher, John Muir had once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”. Throughout centuries, humans have sought and acquired much more than what was required to fulfil their need and greed. The pattern of human interaction with his environment is indeed a multilayered one, with each layer representing a different aspect of this interaction. In an attempt to understand this complex interdependency, several scientists and philosophers have studied human behavior in connection to his environment. In the past few decades, studying the principles of human interaction with environment has emerged as a new field named Environmental Psychology.
Come to think of it. What makes some people use private vehicles while others prefer public conveyance? Why do some people have a constant requirement of insulated environment while others do not need it at all? We live in an era of global climatic change that is already causing immense detrimental effects on our natural resources and environment. In the past few months, our world has seen several such instances, be it the pandemic COVID 19 that has already claimed millions of lives, or the recent super cyclone Aampun that caused immense destruction in the eastern part of our country or the wild fire that broke out in the forests of Uttarakhand. With more disasters we are facing, mitigating climate change is becoming more of a challenge. This environmental crisis is often viewed as an objective consequence of human indifference to nature’s wellbeing. In the last couple of decades, individual responsibility in mitigating these crises has been recurrently emphasized and pro-environmental attitude has received a lot of attention.
Defining Pro-Environmental Attitude
Pro-Environmental attitude often results into behavior that causes least damage to the environment while being more favourable to it. Such attitude often directly or indirectly influences action at individual level that facilitates mitigating climate change and global environmental damage. Proponents of social psychology opine that attitude and behavior are intricately intermingled. Attitude generally refers to the set of beliefs and emotion that can influence the behavior towards an idea, object or person. For instance, if a person fosters a negative attitude towards a psychiatric illness, the person is more likely to avoid or reject persons suffering from a psychiatric illness. Pro-environmental attitude therefore, constitutes some positive set of beliefs about the environment that can actually shape one’s behavior towards the environment. For instance, a person who believes in a “green” environment, will probably switch to organic food and reduce the use of plastic to the minimal.
In our everyday life, we are faced with innumerable such instances where a pro-environmental decision can be made. Be it the usage of plastic bags or throwing off excess food, we always have a choice. But how many among us think otherwise and make a pro-environmental choice? Regrettably, the count is quite low and that too limited to a narrow section of the society. Therefore the question arises, does knowledge play an important role in promoting pro-environmental behavior? Earlier studies on environmental knowledge advocated its’ potentiality to influence pro-environmental behavior.
Of course an individual will act proactively only if he/she is made aware of the problem. But more recent studies speak otherwise (Wiek, Withycombe, & Redman, 2011). Although environmental knowledge is instrumental in shaping behavior, it is found to be inadequate in promoting pro-environmental behavior.
Evidences suggest that knowledge can foster pro-environmental behavior only if it is assimilated with beliefs and emotions (Miranda et al., 2016). This belief and emotion related to the environment constitutes the pro-environmental attitude. It is the component of human mind that rather mediates the relationship between environmental knowledge and environment-friendly behavior.
What explains a Pro-environmental Behavior?
People display pro-environmental behavior when they hold a positive attitude towards the environment, if they get support from people around them and believe in their own abilities to implement their action (Ajzen, 1991). For instance, suppose one wants to reduce the plastic pollution and the government has also banned it. Moreover, the person genuinely feels that by doing so, he/she will be able to bring down the plastic pollution to a larger extent. Considering these factors, the person will make sincere efforts to reduce plastic use at an individual level as well. Another explanation can be that people are more prone to display a pro-environmental behavior when they feel morally obliged to do so. For instance, if a person becomes aware of the severe water crisis in some parts of our country and feels that it is also his/her responsibility to do something about it, a pro-environmental behavior (that is, judicious use of water) will result. A third explanation emphasizes on value orientation and ecological worldview. The ecological worldview is defined as “the propensity to take actions with pro-environmental intent” (Stern, 2000, p.411). Value orientation, on the other hand, includes three different values: Biospheric value that is linked to the nature and biosphere, Altruistic value that is associated with the wellbeing of others and Egoistic value that focuses on individuals’ wellbeing (Klockner, 2013). Thus, a person high on egoistic value will look for personal benefits only while a person high on biospheric value will be most conscious about global warming, climate change pollution and other environmental hazards.
“Going Green”: A Real Concern or a Popular Concern?
In the past few years, there has been growing evidences of increasing proneness to “green” and “sustainable” living. People are opting for organic food, green lodging and sustainable development. Contradictorily, people are also making choices that involve egoistic values. For instance, living in an insulated environment, cutting trees indiscriminately, wasting
enormous amount of food on a daily basis and the list goes on. What explains this dyadic behavior? Is opting for a sustainable development a real concern or simply because it is a popular idea? People do opt for organic food but waste it on a daily basis. Perhaps larger instances of such duality in behavior are the result of only following the popular trend and not an innate pro-environmental attitude. Such inclination has become more frequent owing to the sharp increase in digitization of information. Interestingly, this also explains why people fail to continue displaying a pro-environmental behavior for a long period of time.
Most people do not perceive it to be a personal responsibility to act in a manner that benefits the environment. Such behavior can be explained through the phenomena of diffusion of responsibility, wherein people refrain from taking actions in situations where large group of people are involved. For example, a person can believe that “Everyday there are thousands of vehicles commuting on the roads. What difference in air pollution will occur if I stop driving my own car?” Or, “Everyday thousands of gallons of water are being wasted. How does it matter if I only, stop wasting water?” Personal norm, in the form of feeling obliged, is therefore a key component in shaping one’s behavior.
There is still a lot of exploration that needs to be done to understand pro-environmental attitude and behavior. Until and unless human behavior underlying the destruction of environment is fully understood, “Going Green” will get reduced to mere words and popular trends. Earnestly, the future generation deserves a lot more than that.
- Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.
- de Miranda Coelho, J. A. P., Gouveia, V. V., de Souza, G. H. S., Milfont, T. L., & Barros, B. N. R. (2016). Emotions toward water consumption: Conservation and wastage. Revista Latinoamericana de Psicología, 48(2), 117-126.
- Klöckner, C. A. (2013). How Powerful are Moral Motivations in Environmental Protection?: An Integrated Model Framework. In Handbook of moral motivation(pp. 447-472). Brill Sense.
- Stern, P. C. (2000). Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. Journal of social issues, 56(3), 407-424.
- Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., Redman, C., & Mills, S. B. (2011). Moving forward on competence in sustainability research and problem solving. Environment, 53(2), 3-13.
- Image 1: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/motivating-eco-friendly-behaviors-depends-on-cultural-values.html
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