Attitudes to Climate Change in Some English Local Authorities: Varying Sense of Agency in Denial and Hope

  • Gill Westcott
Part of the Studies in the Psychosocial book series (STIP)


Psychosocial research conducted in 2012–2014 showed that despite the pressures of austerity, local authorities in UK demonstrate deep differences in their action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas not solely connected to political complexion. The concepts of denial and dismissal are used to explore the scepticism and avoidance which inhibit the pursuit of practical initiatives. These concepts illuminate both individual processes and aspects of corporate culture. The study also investigates the felt lack of agency often quoted to explain limits on action (as with bystanders). Narratives about international action, meanings and sense of agency on climate change emerge as significant determinants of action. Central government regulatory and financial policy, crucial in overcoming well-known problems of collective action, also had significant impact.


  1. Ballard, D. (2005). Using learning processes to promote change for sustainable development. Action Research (Special Issue on Change for Sustainable Development), 3 (2).
  2. Cohen, S. (2001). States of denial: Knowing about atrocities and suffering. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  3. Hoggett, P. (2012). The psychosocial perspective. Paper presented at ‘Psychosocial Dimensions of Climate Change’ Seminar, University College London Energy Institute.Google Scholar
  4. Jaeger, C., Dürrenger, G., Hastenhoz, H., & Truffer, B. (1993). Determinants of environmental action with regard to climate change. Climatic Change, 23(3), 193–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Lunn, P. (2011). Costing not less than everything: Sustainability and spirituality in challenging times (Swarthmore Lecture 2011). London: Quaker Books. Google Scholar
  6. Norgaard, K. M. (2006). ‘People want to protect themselves a little bit’: Emotions, denial, and social movement nonparticipation. Sociological Enquiry, 76(3), 372–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Norgaard, K. M. (2011). Living in denial: Climate change, emotions, and everyday life. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Rowson, J. (2013). A new agenda on climate change: Facing up to stealth denial and winding down on fossil fuels. London: Royal Society of the Arts, Action and Research Centre. Available from:,-cognition-and-creativity/social-brain/reports/a-new-agenda-on-climate-change. Accessed 16 Jan 2014.
  9. Rust, M.-J., & Totton, N. (2012). Vital signs: Psychological responses to ecological crises. London: Karnac.Google Scholar
  10. Stoll-Kleemann, S., O’Riordan, T., & Jaeger, C. C. (2001). The psychology of denial concerning climate mitigation measures: Evidence from Swiss focus groups. Global Environmental Change, 11, 107–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Weintrobe, S. (2013). The difficult problem of anxiety in thinking about climate change. In S. Weintrobe (Ed.), Engaging with climate change: Psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Westcott, G. M. (2017). The role of subjective factors in local authorities’ action on climate change in South West England. Ph.D. thesis, University of the West of England. Available from:
  13. Zerubavel, E. (2006). The elephant in the room: Silence and denial in everyday life. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gill Westcott
    • 1
  1. 1.Cheriton Bishop, ExeterUK

Personalised recommendations