Recent research has uncovered clues as to why big issues are registering widely on the ‘national radar’ but still failing to garner the support needed to enact change.

Although some polls show a resurgence in Australian concerns over climate change impacts, other studies show that Australian consumers are slow to change behaviours that would reduce their environmental impact.

How is it that we can be concerned about the big picture, but not so willing to take steps to address it?

Recent research by Psychologist Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon indicates it might just be the ‘big picture’ that is stopping us.

Using the example of a young girl suffering from starvation, researchers noted how much money volunteers were willing to donate. When presented with statistics about the starving population, volunteers gave less money – even though it would ‘seem’ to make more sense to give more.

The research suggests that as individuals, we relate – and empathise – with other individuals. We can help ‘that person’ in need and can see clearly ways in which our actions will bring resolution. However, when presented with broader statistics about how ‘that person is symptomatic of a larger problem’ we feel unable to assist. It’s too big for one person to handle.

“That’s a challenge for charitable groups — and for journalists. A reporter’s job is to tell the truth and paint a picture of everything that’s happening. But when you paint the bigger picture, it could undermine people’s ability to do what they can to help.” Source:

Similarly, the messages used to convey urgency about climate change may require reframing.

In a New Internationalist article on the psychology of climate change,  the question is asked “Are humans psychologically incapable of facing up to the horrific likely consequences of global warming as described by scientists?”

The piece argues that while terrorism rates high on the threat-o-meter for many, climate change still lags and potentially, the solution is… the solution. While terrorism can be seen to be resolved by bombing campaigns, increased vigilance, and visible security measures – regardless of their actual efficacy – significant climate change action measures are seen to be much more complex.

Reframing climate change and creating smaller solutions for individuals to take on board is a valid first step – making the solutions seem easier, achievable, and less scary. But discussing the bigger issues will take more finessing if messages are to reach those who can make the bigger difference.