Ricardo García Mira

Sustainability and climate change: Social Psychology research for public policy changes

How can day-to-day personal decisions affect the future? Ricardo García Mira, PhD in Social Psychology, has researched and turned the answers into policy guidelines in Europe. What lifestyle, social consumption in energy, clothing and food as a pattern of time use do we lead? His profound look at sustainable consumption, nature-based solutions to avoid aggressive precursors and the transition to clean energies.

Former parliamentary Climate Change spokesperson for the Energy Transition Commission in the Spanish Parliament, he has managed to introduce policies based on research carried out as a social scientist at the University of Coruña in Spain with the collaboration of artificial intelligence modelers: “The transfer of research results to policy is something that fascinated me. That path from knowledge to political decisions that improve people’s lives.”

In his personal life, he is happy in the saltpeter of the Atlantic, where he once practiced spearfishing and frequently sails near Baio, a magical village in the Galician countryside that he has visited every summer since he was a child and where he recently bought a house where he can spend his retirement years, when the time comes. He is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of A Coruña, Spain, where he has directed the Person-Environment Research Group for more than 25 years.

As General Coordinator of the European research consortium ENTRANCES in a H2020 project, he works on the social aspects of the energy transition to clean energy. His long trajectory is to be felt at the IV International Congress “Forests and their Potential for Health” in Portugal.

Climate change and human behavior: the small big decisions towards a better world

“We work with artificial intelligence modelers that allow us to study human behavior from psychological theory and explain how successful a policy can be for society.

“They are projects on green lifestyles, to follow the strategy of the European Union with recycling initiatives, repair of objects, use and recycling of clothing and fabrics, analyzing the life cycle of these consumer products, food and sustainable energy.

“The incorporation of artificial intelligence into the analysis of ecological behavior allowed us to simulate the implementation of these policies at the national level and to analyze the consumerist economic scheme that governs our lives, forcing us to work to buy more things and be happier, but at the same time finding that this only leads to increase our frustrations: you get home tired, with no time to share, no time to go to the market and make a good choice of products.

The system puts a lot of pressure on you. These alternatives we put forward were identified and promoted to guide municipal or regional decisions. Taking it to parliament and voting on it was very nice.”

“It is about how to do it from the cities, involving the population in the decisions. To make citizens more responsible, more informed, more involved in the issues that concern them. The environment is central in political decisions and has to do with preservation or deterioration, which requires more and more decision making and defending a collective good that influences the quality of life of people”.

The future is here

“It’s not about slowing climate change, it’s about adapting to it, because the damage is already here. The latest report of the UN Climate Change panel is devastating. The process is being much more accelerated and at least at the European level it provoked the immediate response that impact reductions are needed by 2030, 2040 and 2050 – in stages – to reduce emissions and try to slow warming by 1.5 degrees.

“Now I’m back coordinating my research group to look at the energy transition to clean energy. To see the social, psychological and economic processes involved, how to advise the European community to be able to make decisions about it.

“So at the conference I will address a project on incorporating nature-based solutions in urban contexts. How cities are going to react to adapt to the threats of climate change by incorporating solutions based on water and green management, incorporating nature into people’s lives to improve their health, reduce anxiety and increase safety.

Sustainable consumption, a revealing lifestyle

Green reduces precursor variables to aggression. Exposure to nature in the residential environment has been shown to reduce mental fatigue, the precursors of violence. Violence in general and domestic violence can also be fought with green policies. We must maximize the benefits that emerge from these solutions, which bring health, cohesion, conversation, interaction, strengthening community ties.”

“That is why I am interested in defining what a lifestyle is as a pattern of time use, with associated sustainable consumption practices. Changing lifestyle is changing that pattern of time use. Sustainable lifestyles is the research I’ve enjoyed the most. The most exciting. Involving politicians and civil organizations, neighbors, businesses, within a knowledge co-production approach has been eye-opening.

Knowledge must be extracted from society, not only from the laboratory. It is necessary to give back to society all that investment they make through their taxes. They have the right to have the product of that investment returned to them in the form of improvements to their quality of life. That is the cycle of responsible consumption.

The map of perception for a resilient society

“I was an urban, small-town kid, but I enjoyed some great summers in the countryside. In Baio, near Costa da Morte. There I enjoyed nature in all its fullness, with families who spent their lives in a family economic model of self-sufficiency, like many others. I have been able to see all that, I carry it impregnated. I recently bought a house to recover that contact in the same village. Instead of an apartment in the city, I decided to retire in the countryside.

“I also enjoyed sports throughout my youth more related to the sea, with water, I have done spearfishing, these things that living near the sea leads you to. Today I go sailing with friends who have boats and invite you to enjoy the sea, the Atlantic saltpeter.

“I have been working all my life at the University of Santiago de Compostela -one of the oldest in Europe, about 500 years old-, in one of whose segregated universities, the Universidade da Coruña, I have been working all my life. My research work conditioned my PhD in Environmental Psychology, especially my studies on urban environmental perception and how that perception influences residential choice by families -those who can choose, of course-.

“It allowed me to do some very interesting perception mapping and got me right into the sustainability field. I worked on research on the perception of risk and impact of climate change, and on changing conditions that require society to be more resilient in the face of the threat of climate change.

“For three years I was involved in policy, that is, from the decision-making side, and I was able to see the itinerary that a decision follows. Bringing research into policy practice, taking research results as a basis, is something that is not always easy and I was able to provide the data myself and prepare the initiatives that we then submitted for parliamentary approval.

“Universities do not train people to build the right bridges to connect new knowledge with policy initiatives. That’s why initiatives are more dominated by the economic interest of lobbies and not the public interest, which is what should govern a political decision.”

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