Raymond S. Nickerson, currently research professor at Tufts University Massachusetts and doctor in environmental psychology, evokes in his recent book: "Psychology and Environmental Change"; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey 2003, the question of crucial interdependences between environmental/ecological change and psychology. Nickerson focuses on environmental change due to detrimental human behavior.
In the beginning of the book, Nickerson reviews most topics of the waste domain of ecological problems due to human activities (as global warming, acid rain, air pollution and smog through waste management, natural disasters etc.). In the third part of the book, Nickerson sees an important opportunity in exploiting all technical possibility to achieve a sounder environment. He talks about consumer behavior, risk assessment and communication, cost-benefit and tradeoff analyses, as well as game theory to serve environmental purposes.
These parts need more in-depth arguments; each chapter could perfectly constitute a book on its own. Most topics actually give an overview of the current environmental situation.
Nonetheless, the instructed reader will not find many new aspects to any of the named topics. The relationship with environmental psychology can most of the time be drawn, but is not eminent. As he states himself, Nickerson asks questions throughout the entire book, showing the importance of the relationship between environmental change and psychology. He does not attempt to answer them though, but leaves these questions open to the reader or to fellow scientists, desiring them to commit to some relevant research questions. Allowing the readers to peek beyond their usual thinking patterns, some psychologically, more relevant evidences would need more emphases and explanations nonetheless.
There is one exception, in what I would call the heart of the book, where Nickerson points out that "behavior is a cause for environmental change". For him
"it seems natural to assume that beliefs and attitudes are major determinants of behavior - that people tend to behave in ways that are consistent with their beliefs and attitudes. On this assumption, if one is interested in modifying behavior, it makes sense to try to change the beliefs and attitudes from which the behavior is assumed to flow." page 84
In two chapters, "Attitude Assessment and Change" and "Changing Behavior" Nickerson develops the body of the book. You find direct analyses between behavior and psychology. You actually get some answers to the questions he evokes. Nickerson points out his own ideas, without using an incredible list of references; although instructive reassembling important heads on the subject of environment and psychology, the reference list is very excessive indeed. Nickerson states that little research has been done on this topic and I fully agree with him that this path has to be taken. Concerning what motivates people to behave in an environmentally detrimental way or in an environmentally beneficial way, Nickerson points out as the idea that
"intrinsic motivation is generally considered more likely than extrinsic motivation to move people to engage in environmentally beneficial behavior ( Levenson, 1974; Trigg, Perlman, Perry & Janisse, 1976) and sustain such behavior over the long run (Deci, 1975; Deci & Ryan 1985)." page 116
I would have been glad to find a deeper development of the topic. More insights into the reasons, why ecologically detrimental behavior seems to be so persistent and difficult to change, are lacking.
Again, Nickerson leaves us with an idea, a question, a statement. He also questions his fellow scientists. He is not certain why some questions are not being asked:
"Numerous activities and programs to protect the environment from degradation have been instituted in recent years.
Relatively little is known about what motivates people to participate in or ignore them. For example, we do not know how important beliefs and attitudes are as determinants of people's behavior in this regard. As already noted, many psychologists appear to discount the importance of such variables and advocate attempting to change behavior directly without giving much credence to the idea that it is necessary to change beliefs and attitudes first." page 115
Moreover, Nickerson asks how psychologists can help to resolve at least part of the environmental problem by analyzing current detrimental behavior, by deducting models, by asking new questions up to finally proposing action models. Psychology can offer a lot to reduce detrimental environmental change, but the questions to be asked do not seem to be clear enough and are often not being asked by psychologists. Nickerson finishes his book encouraging psychological research within environmental matters to promote a positive environmental development as well as making this knowledge accessible to a large public, thus accepting the challenge and responsibility science holds towards humanity.
As an overall appreciation, Nickerson offers little innovative thoughts. Nevertheless, I feel inspired by the questions he evokes, by the statements he makes. Nickerson makes me think - revise what I knew before. I felt like a big question myself after reading the book. Nickerson thus fully succeeds in animating the reader to leave known thinking patterns and venture on for new ideas.