Book Review: Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet?: A Psychologist’s Perspective

Laurence Menhinick the Prolific reviewed this book before interviewing its author. who is a Manchester-based academic. The interview will appear on this website very soon.

Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet?: A Psychologist’s Perspective

Beattie, G., 2010, Routledge, London and New York.

I’ve discovered that I have a new hobby: understanding people’s behaviour. Why do we act the way we do, and howcan behaviour be changed. Did you notice it too?“Behaviour” is thenew “sustainable” these days so I jumped on the buzz word bandwagon and picked up the book that looked like it had found the answer… But before we get too carried away, let me reassure you: these 250 pages will not answer the question. Well certainly not fully, but rather it starts the process by studying some attitudes and reactions relating to a few situations, and ends up with more questions than answers.

First, although this book reads quickly, it was certainly not what I expected. Divided into 4 parts it has an unusual style, swinging from personal anecdotes to specific academic research, with a fair amount of explanations about psychology and its methods in between. I was quite taken aback as from the onset Professor Beattie seemed to talk a lot about himself: very personal events, family events, deep-rooted buying habits and lack of environmental interest for instance. Is this usual? Do psychologists usually include themselves in their study of people behaviour? Was this a bald move or an attempt to combine autobiography and research into one book? In the end I think this was actually an interesting and fairly honest stance since -let’s face it – it is quite hypocritical to try to analyze other people’s lack of interest towards climate change knowing full well that you are like them really. But still, such personal stories and details may put readers off and in the end what I wanted was a lot of research and facts.

So what was the research about then, I hear you say? In a nutshell:

  • the impact and perception of the carbon footprint information on various products : how size and positioning are everything when all you have is 10 seconds to grab attention
  • the interesting lack of synchronicity between explicit (public if you like) and implicit (deep-rooted personal) attitudes in some people, which means that actions don’t follow because deep down there is no real acquirement of the issue
  • the mismatch ‘speech – hand gestures’, which displays these discrepancies
  • how the delivery and emotional content of environmental videos can affect people’s moods and reactions either way

In the end I think there was a lot to gain from this book but I would have liked the précis edition, concentrating on the methods, the research and the conclusion.

A couple of little things also stuck with me: how do you generate a “flashbulb memory” in relation to the environment? ie. a kind of sudden violent realization which sticks in your brain and changes your habits forever (the sort of event in your life which could have been fatal and changes you). Or, since you can be unconsciously influenced by names, it is true that the term “global warming” does sound too nice and cozy to convey urgency and disaster. Maybe “climate disaster” would be better. Or “global climate danger”. Or “climate threat”. Or…

Laurence Menhinick

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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