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Authors: Geoffrey Beattie

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Why aren’t we Saving the Planet: A Psycholotist’s Perspective

BOOK: Why aren’t we Saving the Planet: A Psycholotist’s Perspective

Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet?


Global warming. Many of us believe that it is somebody else’s problem, that it will affect other people and that other people will come up with the solution. This is not true. ‘Global’ warming is a global problem: it will affect every single one of us and will only be stopped by a huge shift in our individual attitudes and behaviour. Each time one of us switches on a light, reaches for something in a supermarket, gets into a car or bus, or even chooses what clothes to buy, we are making a choice that can affect the environment. We already know that we need to start making better choices for the sake of our natural world, now.

So why aren’t we already saving the planet? This book follows one psychologist’s mission to find some answers to this question. Challenged by a recently graduated student to use psychology to find the root of the problem, Geoffrey Beattie (an environmental ‘unbeliever’) begins a personal and life-changing journey of discovery. The reader is invited to accompany him as he uses psychological methods to examine people’s attitudes to global warming. Along the way we find the author’s own attitudes being challenged, as well as our own.

This ground-breaking book reflects new and innovative research being carried out into how to change attitudes to the environment and how to encourage sustainable behaviour. It is eminently readable and interesting and, as such, should be read by anyone who is concerned about our planet. In fact, you should also read it if you’re not concerned about our planet.

Professor Geoffrey Beattie
is Head of School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester. His work on sustainability is carried out in the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the university (founded by Tesco). He obtained his PhD in Psychology from the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) and is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). He was awarded the Spearman Medal by the BPS for ‘published psychological research of outstanding merit’. Geoffrey was President of the Psychology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (2005–2006). His paper with Laura Sale on explicit and implicit attitudes to carbon footprint was short-listed for the International Award for Excellence by the
Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability

Geoffrey Beattie is widely regarded as one of the leading international figures on nonverbal communication and has published 16 books, many of which have either won or been short-listed for major national or international prizes. He was the resident psychologist on all ten ‘Big Brother’ series and has also appeared on a number of television programmes for BBC1, Channel 4 and UKTV Style (including ‘Life’s Too Short’, ‘Family SOS’, ‘Dump Your Mates in Four Days’ and ‘The Farm of Fussy Eaters’).

Professor Beattie’s academic publications have appeared in a wide variety of international journals including
and the
Journal of Language and Social Psychology
. He has also written for a diverse range of newspapers and magazines including: the
The Times
, the
, the
Sunday Telegraph
, the
, the
New Statesman
, and
Marie Claire

Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet?


A psychologist’s perspective


Geoffrey Beattie



First published 2010
by Routledge
27 Church Lane, Hove, East Sussex BN3 2FA

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada
by Routledge
270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa business

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2010.


To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to

Copyright © 2010 Psychology Press

Cover design by Mark Woods

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or
reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical
or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including
photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
This publication has been produced with paper manufactured to strict
environmental standards and with pulp derived from sustainable forests.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Beattie, Geoffrey.
Why aren’t we saving the planet? : a psychologist’s perspective / Geoffrey
Beattie. – 1st ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-415-56196-9 (hardcover) - ISBN 978-0-415-56197-6 (pbk.)
1. Attitude (Psychology). 2. Environmental protection – Citizen participation.
I. Title.
BF327.B43 2010
155.9 – dc22

ISBN 0-203-84007-0 Master e-book ISBN


ISBN: 978-0-415-56196-9 (hbk)

ISBN: 978-0-415-56197-6 (pbk)

Copyright © 2010 All rights reserved.

Reader's Guide

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For my children and those that follow on


“The planet is in peril on account of human activity. This brilliant book has opened up a veritable practical path to solving the crises facing the planet. This is required reading for everyone who is interested in our survival.”

Marcel Danesi, University of Toronto and Editor of

“Many people see consumers as pivotal to helping solve climate change issues. But getting them on board may be a very complex process. This book represents a real milestone in the ability to unravel, understand and change the attitudes of the public and more importantly, their behaviour”

Fran Cassidy, Director, The Marketing Society

“This is a beautiful work, artistic and literary. The reader is led through the methods and data with a sure hand, and surprises pop up with charm and a generous concern for the reader. I especially admire Geoff’s honesty and courage in using his own self as a kind narrative protagonist.”

Professor David McNeill, Center for Gesture and Speech Research, University of Chicago, USA



Motivations implicit and explicit

Notes on attitude

Small things can make a difference

Measuring attitudes to sustainability: easily, consciously and wrongly?

The man who changed a fortune cookie and started a revolution

The missing ingredient is now available

Uncovering implicit attitudes to carbon footprints

Unconscious eye movements and what the brain sees

Notes on habits

Eden reclaimed

Old habits

Notes on dissociation

In two minds

Speech and revealing movement

In search of the green fakers (in search of myself)

Taking big risks

Emotion and thought

An inconvenient truth?

Reaching boiling point?

Some conclusions and some action plans




I would like to thank Tesco for its generous financial support of the new research that forms the basis of this book. The research was carried out under the auspices of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester, an institute established with the financial support of Tesco. Laura Sale (mainly implicit and explicit attitudes, dissociation and gesture, persuasion and mood) and Laura McGuire (mainly eye tracking and mood and thinking) were two excellent research assistants, who showed commitment and dedication from the start. The section of the book on the memory of my father and the fort he made for me appeared in a slightly different form in
Protestant Boy
(Granta, 2004) and I thank Granta for permission to use it here. The section on the talk at my youth club first appeared in Beattie, G. (2008), ‘What we know about how the human brain works’, in Lannon, J. (ed.),
How Public Service Advertising Works
, Henley on Thames: World Advertising Research Centre, and I thank the World Advertising Research Centre for permission to use that section here. A short section on flashbulb memories and my inability to remember how my father sounded appeared in
magazine, 2009, and I thank them for their permission to use this. The four new studies that form the core of this book either have appeared or will appear in the following international peer-reviewed journals, and I thank the journals for permission to use the material here. The journal references are as follows.

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