ABSTRACT

In early 2009 experts from the Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions gathered at Columbia University to discuss why the human brain is not green in its orientation (Gertner, 2009). This meeting, which drew together social scientists, psychologists and economists, reflects a broader search for more sophisticated ways of understanding humans’ environmental behaviours. Those gathered at Columbia University appeared to agree that there were identifiable, and significant, barriers to developing more environmentally sustainable patterns of human behaviour. At one level, experts argued that individuals tend to receive very poor feedback on the consequences of their environmental actions. If we focus on domestic energy consumption (most people’s single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions) as an example, we can identify why we often remain blissfully unaware of the environmental consequences of everyday behaviours. Within the home, energy use, and its environmental side effects, have an intangible quality. The ease with which we can switch a light on, boot-up a com puter or reset a thermostat means that we often remain blissfully unaware of how much energy we are actually consuming as it makes its invisible way around our home (Jackson, 2005). While most homes have an electricity meter, which keeps a record of energy consumption practices, these devices are usually tucked away in dusty cupboards underneath stairs and are rarely consulted. But even if we were made constantly aware of our domestic energy consumption levels (and, more importantly, what these levels meant for greenhouse gas production), the worst environmental consequences of our actions would still remain hidden from us. If we take climate change as an example, the fact that contemporary patterns of greenhouse gas production tend to only change climates over relatively long time periods, and often in distant places, means that the feedback we receive on the consequences of our action is further restricted.