Changing human behaviour: it isn't just about communication
Plastic straws stuck up turtles noses; arctic forests burning in the summer heat; traumatised baby orang-utans crouching by the side of bulldozers; polar bears on melting ice floes; the eerie silence of summer nights with no insects; a thousand more vivid images of global change and a steady drumbeat of loss, degradation and despair.
Only the most obtuse deny that human activity is having profound effects on the planet, and that these activities ultimately threaten ourselves in potentially catastrophic ways. The solutions are not cryptic, and have largely been known for as long as humans have lived in large groups: limit resource use to what the local environment can sustain and don't pollute upstream of the village. And yet we seem incapable, collectively and individually, of consistently altering our behaviour to reduce our environmental impact.
In this lecture, I will explore some evolutionary explanations for the persistence of selfish behaviour in the face of overwhelming pressure to act for the greater good. I will use results from simple observations of human behaviour in public spaces to illustrate the problem, and will then speculate about the implications for managing our effect on the planet.