When it comes to humans, a large part of our progress as a species is limited by our ability to produce new technologies and develop new methods within the means of our finite pool of resources. One aspect which is perhaps not considered as often is something which is seemingly the most human: societal attitudes to change. With the first half of 2016 deemed the ‘warmest 6 months on record’, the urgency of a transition to a sustainable energy future is more important now than ever. So what can be done to change people’s attitudes? How can we as students get involved? In order to answer these questions – and of course many more – I sat down with Angela Ruepert, a post-doc researcher of Groningen University’s professor Linda Steg in the Psychology department to find out more about the role of society on the topic of energy.
Before going into how to change people’s perception of energy, she told me more about the biggest obstacles when it comes to society accepting change. The most surprising piece of information she gave me was that in a lot of cases, the technology to make a difference already exists, however some people just aren’t willing to accept them. Drawing from my own anecdotal evidence, I can certainly recall numerous complaints about wind farms in particular. Not only can it be a superficial issue, it can also be a political issue. Forcing a technological change – despite whatever benefits it holds – on a community that doesn’t want it could result in a loss of votes in a succeeding election. Nonetheless, the biggest problem is that in order for some technologies to work, people have to change their behaviour and in order for people to accept this change they must first admit that they are wrong.
Another big challenge is in behaviour outside of the home, for example at the workplace. The same problems exist as previously discussed, however this is the area in which Angela specialises. Based on her research she found that the best idea is to shift people’s focus to doing ‘the right thing’ and being more conscious of the environment; those who would work in an organisation with a strong environmental policy would be more likely to adapt to a pro-environment mindset. It is here where Angela says students can help, by taking the knowledge you have learned on your degree into the workplace you can inspire both the organisation and the employees to pursue a sustainable energy future. Alternatively, if you’re interested in research, you can help by doing so and contributing to the collection of data. For those still in the middle of their education, she even highlighted an exciting new master’s course at the RUG: Environmental Psychology.
As we reached the end of our talk, Angela told me how she thinks climate change is one of the biggest challenges of the modern day; her inside opinion stating that there’s still a lot to learn when it comes to the way we view energy. There are lots of ways for students to get involved and both she and I agree that it is necessary to ensure a transition to a sustainable energy future and as more and more options for energy education open up, the excuses you can use begin to dwindle. Personally I’d love to know more about how we can become more energy conscious but I’ve already made a commitment to the world of the natural sciences; I’ll leave it to you.