News | 11th Jul, 2010

Gillard ‘needs a shrink’ for a greener Australia

Sunday, 11 July 2010
Elizabeth Gallagher

If Kevin and Malcolm Turnbull had listened to psychologists rather than political advisors, climate change might not have killed their leadership. And they might have found Australians wanted to help the environment but didn't know how.

It's a sentiment from more than 3000 delegates gathered in Melbourne for the International Congress of Applied Psychology which starts today, led by headline speaker Professor Robert Gifford.

The respected psychologist has said politicians need to consult his profession because consumers aren't taking action on global warming due to obstacles in their thinking.

'Essentially, people are not very rational,'' he said. ''Climate change is not immediate and local. We're always thinking about what's around the corner, so of course we're able to do something about it; it's just difficult.'' The Canadian professor said there were seven main ''dragons'', a term he invented years ago, that stopped people going further than just an emotional response to the environment. These included relying on scientists to save the planet and being influenced by others.

''We ask ourselves, 'If people like me don't ride bicycles or recycle, why should I?'''.

Gifford is the professor of psychology and environmental studies at British Columbia's University of Victoria and said the Gillard government needed to follow the lead of its Canadian counterpart in consulting psychologists when forming policy.

''When we talk to policy-makers in Canada, they're usually surprised from what they hear from us and then change policy accordingly. It ends up being a very good discussion,'' he said.

But Gifford said Australians were influenced by social norms and were unwilling to make changes. The Lowy Institute also found this in its May poll surveying public opinion on climate change, which showed that 72 per cent of Australians wanted to reduce carbon emissions but were not prepared to pay to do it.

The study found 24 per cent were only prepared to pay less than $10 extra on their monthly electricity bill to help the environment, while a further 33 per cent were not prepared to pay anything at all.

Environment Victoria's Mark Wakeham said people weren't acting because they were tired of the political debate around climate change. ''We've seen a huge surge of concern in the community towards climate change. I think we've seen some fatigue in the debate, though.''

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