Prof. Jana Möller-Herm
Assistant Professor of Market Communication at Freie Universität Berlin
Earth Day was first observed in 1970 (Earth Day takes place every year on 22 April.). So we knew about the damage we were doing to the environment back then. But the climate situation has gotten even worse since, and the global population has continued its resource-intensive patterns of consumption. It looks like those good intentions didn’t really help, right?
It’s true that since the first Earth Day in 1970, the climate situation has continued to deteriorate and resource consumption by the world’s population has increased. The environmental problem is very complex and many factors contribute to it.
An important factor is that many people around the world still don’t know enough about environmental issues and don’t understand how their actions affect the environment. In addition, there are political and economic forces that stand in the way of measures to address environmental problems, and there are cultural and social factors that delay changes in consumption patterns.
Psychological factors that impede motivation include a lack of tangibility and certainty with regard to sustainable action. By its very nature, green consumer behavior means not pursuing our immediate, individual interests and prioritizing actions whose benefits won’t be seen until far into the future. Moreover, the effects of sustainable action and inaction are difficult to track because changes occur very slowly over time. Because of this uncertainty, people often find it difficult to motivate themselves to act in sustainable ways.
Despite this, many people in Germany are motivated to improve the climate situation through individual behavior, such as eating less meat, consistently recycling and switching to electric vehicles or public transport. In this way, they also act as role models and motivators for others.
There is a lot of talk about individual climate action and personal carbon footprints, but what is also important are the decisions made by people in the executive suites of corporations and public authorities, because their actions can have a much greater impact. How do you think they can become more motivated to act in a climate friendly way?
Individual behavior to mitigate climate change is important. Every climate-friendly action is worthwhile. In addition to the actions of individual consumers, I see private firms and policymakers as primarily responsible for bringing about the climate transition, for instance by driving intensive activity within the circular economy and by establishing the legal framework for climate-neutral production methods. Because private companies and policymakers can have much greater leverage with their actions than individual consumers, it is particularly important to motivate them to engage in climate change mitigation in everything they do. Consumers – and voters – can put pressure on the private sector and government through environmentally minded purchasing and voting decisions. As demand for climate-friendly products and services increases and election results show how politicians must take a stand on the climate, we see that every individual can have an impact.
The goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius no longer seems realistic. How do we still motivate ourselves to, say, consume less meat or drive and fly less?
It’s true that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is very ambitious and that it seems increasingly out of reach. But this should not lead us to bury our heads in the sand and stop motivating ourselves to protect the climate. I’ve put together some tips on how to stay motivated on our webpage.
The interview was conducted in April 2023.