Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change

76 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

Date Written: May 1, 2009


Climate scientists have identified global warming as the most important environmental issue of our time, but it has taken over 20 years for the problem to penetrate the public discourse in even the most superficial manner. While some nations have done better than others, no nation has adequately reduced emissions and no nation has a base of public citizens that are sufficiently socially and politically engaged in response to climate change. This paper summarizes international and national differences in levels of knowledge and concern regarding climate change, and the existing explanations for the worldwide failure of public response to climate change, drawing from psychology, social psychology and sociology. On the whole, the widely presumed links between public access to information on climate change and levels of concern and action are not supported. The paper's key findings emphasize the presence of negative emotions in conjunction with global warming (fear, guilt, and helplessness), and the process of emotion management and cultural norms in the construction of a social reality in which climate change is held at arms length. Barriers in responding to climate change are placed into three broad categories: 1) psychological/conceptual, 2) social and cultural, and 3) structural (political economy). The author provides policy considerations and summarizes the policy implications of both psychological and conceptual barriers, and social and cultural barriers. An annotated bibliography is included.

Keywords: Environmental Economics & Policies, Climate Change, Transport and Environment, Global Environment Facility, Environmental Governance

Suggested Citation

Norgaard, Kari Marie, Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges in Responding to Climate Change (May 1, 2009). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4940, Available at SSRN:

Kari Marie Norgaard (Contact Author)

Whitman College ( email )

345 Boyer Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362
United States

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