Dragon 2: Ideologies

Gifford (2011) identifies ideologies as the second dragon family of inaction. This refers, for example, to political or religious systems of thought.

Ideological beliefs can affect diverse areas of life. At the same time, they provide an explanation for many things and thus fulfil the need for security and simplification. Last but not least, they also serve self-esteem and strengthen social bonds (Jost et al., 2009).

Unfortunately, there is a crucial catch to all this: many ideologies contradict a sustainable environmental and climate protection attitude and thus represent a central obstacle when it comes to changing one’s own behaviour for climate protection (Gifford, 2011).

The dragon species of the Ideologies family are:

  • Worldviews – Because what must not be, cannot be
  • Superhuman powers – This is fate
  • Belief in technology – Technology will save us
  • System justification – But I’m fine with it

Some worldviews and beliefs not only inhibit climate-protective behavior, but actually contribute to the destruction of nature (Gifford, 2011).

One example is an unreflective endorsement of capitalist systems and the accompanying attitude that the planet Earth functions primarily as a resource that can be used or exploited according to one’s own interests. This self-imposed freedom in dealing with the natural world leads directly to negative consequences – not only for nature, but also for its beneficiaries.  We live in a world with limited resources and a steadily growing population. As early as the 1960s, it was postulated that, under these circumstances, the desire to increase personal gain leads to the destruction of one’s own and the common basis of life (Hardin, 1968).

This dilemma is highly topical and can be observed in many settings of the (capitalist) globalized world: Overfishing of the oceans, destruction of landscapes by monocultures or deforestation are examples that destroy present as well as future living conditions (Gillford, 2011; Gardiner, 2001).

However, many collaborative problems that could be effectively addressed primarily through cooperation and coordination are often answered with individual rather than collective solution approaches (Gross & De Dreu, 2019). Reasons include fear of making individual losses when investing in cooperative solution attempts, distrust of other group members, or lack of belief that the cooperative strategy is promising. Innovations and changes in economic structures in recent years have transformed collective problem-solving from a necessity into a possibility.

There was a growing tendency to prefer individualistic strategies. The problem is that this often leads to worse outcomes for both the community and the individual (Gross & De Dreu, 2019).

Superhuman powers

Belief in superhuman forces represents another ideological dragon (Gifford, 2011). These include, for example, belief in a divinity or a force such as “Mother Nature” that solves the climate crisis.

The individual may thus feel absolved of all responsibility. Reliance on superhuman powers is accompanied by science skepticism, reactance behavior, and the previously outlined dragons of lack of perceived action control, lack of perceived self-efficacy, and optimistic bias (Gifford et al., 2018).

Tech Faith

The power of “foreign forces” also hides behind the dragon of technological confidence (Gifford, 2011). There is a belief that technological achievements are the decisive source for overcoming the climate crisis. This attitude not only overestimates the practical possibilities, but also inhibits one’s own behaviour to reduce emissions.

One example in this context is the field of geoengineering, i.e. intervening in natural systems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere quickly and over large areas. Increasing algal mass in the oceans to boost photosynthetic product, creating artificial clouds to reduce solar radiation, or trapping huge amounts of CO2 in the ground: tantalizingly simple-sounding scenarios that forecast a positive future (Lawrence et al., 2018). But these promising-sounding ways to manage the greenhouse effect can lead to negligent behaviour – for example, in the form of increased CO2 emissions. Why adapt or change my behavior when, by all appearances, a solution has already been found? The temptation is to have to restrict one’s freedoms less (Lin, 2013; Santarisu, 2012).

System justification

The final ideology dragon is the psychological mechanism of system justification (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Giford, 2011). Pro-environmental behavior is inhibited by people not wanting to give up their comfortable status quo. However, by making adjustments to the climate crisis, life as we are used to it would have to be questioned even in everyday situations such as shopping.

To avoid this, a crisis is simply justified as the “natural course of events”. The advantage of this is that it legitimises the existence and continuation of the pleasant feeling of status quo. On the other hand, however, environmental problems are relativized and the will to protect the climate is weakened (Feygina et al., 2010; Weber, 2016).

Closely related to system justification is the belief in a just world, that is, the view that everything happens as it should (Osborne & Sibley, 2013). This creates a basic sense of trust and may even produce justice-seeking behavior. However, if such behaviour is perceived as outside one’s capabilities, it can also lead to a blanking out or an unrealistic, positive reinterpretation of injustice in terms of cognitive assimilation (Dalbert, 200; Peter; 2012). This way of resolving the state of injustice for a quiet conscience leads to a reduced willingness to take action against corresponding grievances (Osborne & Sibley, 2013).

System justification is supported by the one-sided search for arguments that confirm one’s own point of view (Motivated Reasoning; Kunda, 21990). Let us turn the tables for a moment: What if climate-protective behaviour becomes the new system standard?

The assumption: people who tend to justify the system then also have the motivation to reduce emissions and protect the environment (Feygina et al., 2010).


Dohm, Lea; Peter, Felix; van Bronswijk, Katharina (Hg.). August 2021. Climate Action – Psychologie der Klimakrise. Psychosozial-Verlag. Giessen Germany.

Gifford, Robert. 2011. The Dragons of Inaction: Psychological Barriers That Limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation