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Energy use, climate change and folk psychology: Does sustainability have a chance? Results from a qualitative study in five European countries

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Global Environment Change, Volume 21, Number 3, p.1025-1034 (2011)



Citizensí support for policies that aim to curb carbon emissions and energy use is often seen as informed by their values, attitudes and perceptions of the environmental problem in question. We argue that we also need to understand how people conceptualise policies and the governance approaches underpinning them to be able to judge the likely acceptance of policy change. In this study, we draw on qualitative interviews (n = 202) from five European countries to explore citizensí views on governance approaches to stimulate behavioural change in the field of resource use, including regulations, price changes, collective action, technological change and education. We found that many of our interviewees referred to generalised characteristics of humankind and contemporary society to back up their arguments for or against specific governance approaches. In particular, many interviewees concurred that people in general were so self-centred, driven by habit and money- and consumption-oriented that only strict regulations, drastic price changes and technological innovation could possibly achieve widespread behavioural change. As a consequence, such ëfolk psychologiesí can have substantial impact not only on public acceptance, but also on the success of policy measures that aim to reduce citizensí resource use.