The impacts of climate change are severe, and irreversible, affecting eco-systems, and humanity. According to NASA, current warming is happening approximately 10 times faster than the average rate of warming, after the ice age. This is due to the carbon dioxide, produced from human activities, which acts as a catalyst, increasing global warming 250 times faster than it did from the natural resources, after the ice age. Therefore, drastic changes to peoples' lifestyles are required, to minimise the adverse consequences of global warming.
Yet, if society has such a positive attitude towards fighting climate change, and becoming more sustainable, then why do people continue to engage in unsustainable consumption such as purchasing fast fashion, depend on fossil fuels, and not make enough the effort to recycle their waste? With the Earth warming at an unprecedented and rapid rate, it is no longer enough for individuals to just have a positive attitude towards these environmental issues. Real action is needed, and climate action is needed now.
What is the Values-Action Gap?
The value-action gap, also known as the attitude-behaviour gap, occurs when the values, of an individual, are inconsistent with their actions. When a persons’ behaviour, and beliefs, do not match, cognitive dissonance develops, and this may lead to feelings of guilt, stress, and unhappiness. Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation where there is tension, between at least two, conflicting beliefs. For example, an individual may wish to quit smoking, since they are aware of the ill-effects of tobacco, yet continue their behaviour to smoke, nevertheless. Similarly, consumers may express a positive attitude towards climate change, and have a lot of knowledge on the effects of their habits, on climate change. However, they fail to execute on these positive attitudes by engaging in responsible behaviours.
Some examples of gaps, in relation to the environment, are between how much people say they care about recycling compared to how much they recycle. Furthermore, how many people say they favour organic food, compared to how many people buy organic food. Also, there is a gap between how many people claim to care about carbon emissions, and how may people change their habits to reduce their carbon emissions.
Why people do not act in accordance with their beliefs
Despite people showing awareness of environmental issues, and caring about those issues, they remain unaddressed, because people are not willing to alter their behaviours. Yet, if people have positive values towards climate change, why do they not act accordingly?
Firstly, people may feel like it is unfair to make sacrifices, and adapt their habits, to support climate change, when many other people do not undertake these sacrifices as well. Also, it is easy for people to have a lack of trust that changing their behaviours will be effective, especially if not enough people are putting in the effort.
Additionally, counter-incentives outweigh peoples’ values. For example, an individual may be aware that using public transport, or walking, or cycling, will benefit climate action, because it uses less carbon emissions, in comparison to traveling by car. However, these other methods of transportation may be seen as less attractive, since it is more hassle to wait for a bus, or a train, and it is not always possible to travel somewhere directly. Also, walking, and cycling, are slower, and therefore only ideal for shorter distances, and in the UK, bad weather may not agree with these methods. As a result of this, people continue to drive cars as a means of transport. Another competing value may be the higher prices of organic, vegan, or eco-friendly products. Due to this, people who purchase environmentally-friendly products tend to be associated with the middle class.
Habitual consumption and daily routines make it harder for individuals to overcome the value-action gap. People prefer to stick to the brands that they are familiar with, and trust. Also, to adopt new sustainable consumption behaviours, it would require research, time, money, and effort, from consumers. Therefore, if someone has a busy lifestyle, and other priorities, they may not want to consider alternative products, or brands.
What can I do to overcome the values-action gap towards climate change?
For people to translate their environmental concern into pro-environmental behaviour, it is important that they acquire the necessary knowledge, regarding climate change. Many individuals have a lack of appropriate information on these specific issues. So, to overcome this, more people should educate themselves, deliver these messages, and spread awareness. This will fill the gap with information, and knowledge, which will change public behaviours. If more communities could involve themselves in educational marketing campaigns, or supporting NGO’s, sustainable development would be much more understood, and eventually this will encourage changes in behaviour.