Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lessons in the psychology of sustainability from MSU

In Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (PECASE, President's Birthday, and Curiosity edition) on Daily Kos, I included this pair of stories from Michigan State University describing what it takes to make people think green. The first comes from MSU's environmental studies in China and shows that pollution will make people more interested in their environment, regardless of income level.

Pollution can make citizens – both rich and poor – go green
July 30, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Nothing inspires environmentalism quite like a smog-filled sky or a contaminated river, according to a new Michigan State University study that also indicates environmentalism isn’t just for the prosperous.

People living in China’s cities who say they’ve been exposed to environmental harm are more likely to be green – re-using their plastic grocery bags or recycling. Moreover, the study, published July 30 in the international journal AMBIO, indicates that the poor would sacrifice economic gain to protect their environment.

“The human and natural worlds are tightly coupled and we cannot protect the environment without empirical studies on how rich and poor people are understanding and reacting to the natural world around them.” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, a co-author of the AMBIO paper and director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at MSU.

The paper, “How Perceived Exposure to Environmental Harm Influences Environmental Behavior in Urban China,” flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that the poor cannot afford to protect the environment.
This study shows there's hope for Detroit and other Rust Belt cities.

The second asks about the emotional aspect of living next to large predators and how people have to feel about them in order to protect them.

Human relationship with wildlife one key to conservation
July 31, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. — To protect a dangerous and endangered animal – be it a tiger in Nepal or a wolf in Michigan – you really do have to ask people “how do you FEEL about your predatory neighbor?”

Effective conservation calls for figuring out what protected species need – like habitat and food sources. It also requires an understanding of what it takes for their human neighbors to tolerate them. A Michigan State University doctoral student studying tigers in Nepal found that those feelings can provide critical information on how best to protect species.

“People have complex psychological relationships with wildlife,” said Neil Carter, researcher in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. “Picking apart these complex relationships is the best way to get a really good idea of what’s affecting their tolerance of the animal.”
I think someone needs to work with the ranchers in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho to find how how they really feel about wolves, and what could make them feel any differently about them.

Thanks for the sweet research. This Wolverine says "Sparty on!"

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