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Why People Harm the Environment Although They Try to Treat It Well: An Evolutionary-Cognitive Perspective on Climate Compensation
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building Engineering, Energy Systems and Sustainability Science, Environmental Science. (Miljöpsykologi)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7584-2275
University of Gävle, Faculty of Health and Occupational Studies, Department of Occupational and Public Health Sciences, Psychology. (Psykologi)
2019 (English)In: Frontiers in Psychology, ISSN 1664-1078, E-ISSN 1664-1078, Vol. 10, article id 348Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Climate changes stress the importance of understanding why people harm the environment despite their attempts to behave in climate friendly ways. This paper argues that one reason behind why people do this is that people apply heuristics, originally shaped to handle social exchange, on the issues of environmental impact. Reciprocity and balance in social relations have been fundamental to social cooperation, and thus to survival, and therefore the human brain has become specialized by natural selection to compute and seek this balance. When the same reasoning is applied to environment-related behaviors, people tend to think in terms of a balance between ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘harmful’ behaviors, and to morally account for the average of these components rather than the sum. This balancing heuristic leads to compensatory green beliefs and negative footprint illusions—the misconceptions that ‘green’ choices can compensate for unsustainable ones. ‘Eco-guilt’ from imbalance in the moral environmental account may promote pro-environmental acts, but also acts that are seemingly pro-environmental but in reality more harmful than doing nothing at all. The current paper suggests strategies for handling this cognitive insufficiency.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. Vol. 10, article id 348
Keywords [en]
Climate Change, moral accounting, natural selection, Negative footprint illusion, compensatory green beliefs, evolutionary-cognitive perspective
National Category
Applied Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-29225DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00348ISI: 000460299600001PubMedID: 30886596Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85065163465OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-29225DiVA, id: diva2:1285663
Available from: 2019-02-04 Created: 2019-02-04 Last updated: 2019-08-12Bibliographically approved

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Sörqvist, PatrikLangeborg, Linda

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