People not polar bears prompt greener lifestyles

Dr Rachel Howell

Dr Rachel Howell

13 February 2013

A study carried out by an Aberystwyth University research fellow suggests that people who cut their carbon footprint are motivated by helping those affected by climate change more than by ‘saving the planet’.

Dr Rachel Howell from the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences joined Aberystwyth University last September from the University of Edinburgh. She is developing research projects as part of the ‘Human Dimensions of Climate Change’ theme of the Climate Change Consortium of Wales.

The biggest incentive for choosing green lifestyles is concern for people in developing countries, whose lives are increasingly put at risk by the effects of global warming, researchers say.

Other key drivers that encourage people to make environmentally responsible choices include individuals’ moral convictions and a sense of community.

The study carried out in the UK also challenges the effectiveness of eco-slogans such as ‘10 steps to save the planet’, which researchers say is too simplistic. 

Dr Howell, who carried out the research at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, says, “Our study reveals a need for climate change campaigns to promote a broad holistic view of the benefits of a lower-carbon future, rather than offering a to-do list.

“People I interviewed thought they were using more than their fair share of resources, and found changing their lifestyles mostly a positive experience. Polar bears have become the poster boys of climate change but that doesn't seem to be what really gets people going.”

The study, which is published in the Journal of Global Environmental Change, was supported by the Scottish Alliance for Geosciences, Environment and Society (SAGES).