top of page

Is climate change a scientific matter?

Climate change is a complex and multifaceted issue, with implications far beyond our individual lives. As I reflect on my upbringing, I realise that I used to trust that technology and science alone would solve the sustainability puzzle. I believed that regulations would provide the right constraints and incentives while common sense and innovation would implement the transition to a sustainable state.

I remember learning in physics and biology classes that nothing is ever truly lost or gained; everything is instead transformed (courtesy of Lavoisier). Based on this principle, I questioned how constant economic growth could continue while greenhouse gas emissions decreased, as some suggested. It seemed paradoxical, but I held onto the hope that science and innovation could surprise us. In a way, I still believed in magic, and a part of me wished "nothing had to change", even if rational thinking never backed it up. My hope was predictably short-lived. Chemical transformation, though it may sound whimsical, does not mean that the energy from our activities simply vanishes. Instead, it results in the creation of a significant amount of waste, which then requires additional energy to manage. The same goes for the economy.

Achieving ambitious goals like net-zero emissions, through a delicate balance of energy management, is technically feasible. My perspective most profoundly changed when I started to grasp human motivations and policymaking. It highlighted the gap between technical feasibility and practical, systemic changes that are required to achieve such goals. It became clear that climate change goes far beyond science. It is a multifaceted challenge, intricately connected to human, social, behavioural, economic and cultural factors.

The prevalence of climate change denial, the prioritisation of profit margins and the status quo highlight are just the tip of the iceberg. With the erosion of communities and people being reduced to mere "human resources" focused solely on productivity, we have unintentionally created an economic system that exploits the planet and reflects human interactions. If this system has perpetuated the enslavement of 40 million people to this day, is it any surprise that it has exploited the earth? It is not the climate that is broken, but rather us humans. The Earth will be fine once we are gone. If we want to continue being a part of life on Earth, it is imperative that we collectively transform our behaviour and cultural values.

Where to start?
  1. One of the key social and behavioural factors that contribute to climate change is our definition of success. Our current economic system is based on principles of growth and consumerism. Have more to be more, which leads to the overuse of resources (and more greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming). Likewise, defining a country's success solely based on GDP limits its value to productivity. Not only do we deplete nature, but our growth-based system also depletes us. Our precious time on earth and our spaces, get cluttered with activities, jobs and things we don’t want. Yet, we trade them daily against the dignity and self-actualisation that we crave.

  2. Another cultural issue that contributes to climate change is our tendency towards individualistic and short-term thinking. We often prioritise our immediate needs without considering the long-term consequences of our actions, individuals our countries. Climate change is like a chronic health condition, it only takes a little sugar or smoking a few cigarettes daily to develop type-2 diabetes or lung cancer. What seems benign can bitterly compound. Similarly, our short-term thinking leads to a lack of action on climate change. We don’t like compromising and above all, the economy has to stay high. Meanwhile, we fail to recognise the urgency of taking immediate and consistent steps to address it.

  3. Another important cultural trend is the maintenance of the status quo. This is often concealed by greenwashing and ineffective, marginal change processes that only make minor adjustments instead of transforming our environmental impact. Imagine the colossal effort, time and energy spent to reach the Paris Agreements, establish social developmental goals (SDGs), set corresponding national targets, develop corresponding policies, laws and incentives… All of which is met with the worldwide effort to report on climate impact, GHG, etc. Despite all this, in 2021, emissions rebounded past pre-pandemic levels, growing more than 6% (emissions shrank by more than 5% in 2020, due to Covid-19).

Addressing the complex socio-economic challenge that drives climate change goes beyond the realm of science and technology. It is deeply rooted in our socio-cultural and economic systems, which calls for a profound shift in our collective consciousness and a fundamental reevaluation of our societal structures and values.

First, our definition of success should be much broader than GDP and encompass the health of our planet, the well-being of all people, and the preservation of biodiversity.

Second, to bring about this transformation, we need to tap into the potential of behavioural science. By understanding the social, cultural, and psychological factors that contribute to climate change, we can develop effective interventions and strategies to shift behaviour towards more sustainable practices. This includes utilising nudging and choice architecture, designing incentive and reward systems, implementing targeted interventions, psychological barriers and motivation, harnessing the power of social influence and norms, and increasing education and awareness about climate change. Cutting-edge behavioural research can provide valuable insights and strategies to overcome the socio-cultural barriers to climate change and develop evidence-based approaches to drive meaningful change.

Third, to transform decision-makers' barriers to climate change, it is crucial to engage with policymakers, business leaders, and other stakeholders. By providing them with the necessary information, tools, and incentives, we can empower them to make informed decisions and take bold action. This includes investing in research that explores the intersection of behavioural science and policy-making, developing communication strategies that resonate with decision-makers, and creating platforms for collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Ultimately, addressing climate change requires a collective effort and a willingness to challenge the status quo. It requires us to rethink our values, redefine our priorities, and reimagine our economic systems. By embracing sustainability and well-being as guiding principles, we can create a future that is not only environmentally sustainable but also socially just and economically prosperous. Let’s just hope it is not too late to create a future that is not only sustainable but also harmonious for ourselves and future generations.


bottom of page