Why Social Mobilization Is Essential For Confronting the Climate Crisis And What Academic Psychologists Can Do
Global heating appears to be accelerating and to prevent it from disrupting organized existence we must quickly and substantially reduce the burning of fossil fuels, reduce consumption and demand, and achieve a just transition to renewable energy. Local decision makers, including university chancellors, and city and state officials generally have not, and will not, implement policy in a timely way to leave fossil fuels in the ground without being impelled by a large-scale social mobilization. I will speak about social mobilization from my perspective as an academic who quit a career in cognitive neuroscience to focus on the climate crisis. I will provide some examples of successful social mobilization from our organizing efforts within the University of California and the overlap with psychology research. I will argue that insofar as the fields of environmental and social psychology have concerned themselves with the climate crisis they have mostly done so through studies of individual rather than collective action. Even when these fields focus on collective action, they have almost entirely been limited to cross-sectional survey studies (often online), and self-reported actions or hypothetical intentions. Instead I will discuss how we are trying to pioneer a new kind of field study: we teach research participants to organize for climate action and study the psychological factors that predispose them and make them successful.