Using psychology to support drivers of climate action
Alejandra Fernández Álvarez is a psychologist and researcher from Costa Rica who will be part of her country’s negotiating delegation for COP28, with support from the Global Environment Facility and Climate Reality Project America Latina. In an interview, she talked about her quest to understand why some people appeared uninterested in climate change and shared how being active in the climate movement has propelled her hope.
What did you study and how does it relate to the environment?
I studied psychology at the University of Costa Rica. I am currently finishing my thesis regarding climate change to get a licentiate degree in psychology. For my research, I interviewed young people to understand their perceptions of climate change, and to find out what pro-environmental behaviors they take and why.
When did you become interested in environmental issues?
I first heard about climate change when I was in science class in elementary school, when we watched An Inconvenient Truth – the documentary on climate change produced by Al Gore. After that, I became obsessed with the topic and changed my lifestyle as much as I could because I wanted to be part of the solution. The big question I had was why did most people dismiss the issue as if it wasn’t important? The eagerness I had to understand what leads people to act was actually one of the reasons that I ended up studying psychology.
Regarding the climate impacts, to this day me and my family fortunately have not been impacted directly by a natural disaster. However, the climate crisis is an all-encompassing phenomenon that triggers chain-like reactions which then lead to indirect effects, such as the increase in food prices due to the loss of crops related to extreme temperatures. The main impact I’ve felt regarding climate change is eco-anxiety, that fear of the uncertainty of our future and a feeling of helplessness. However, this same feeling is what inspired me to join the climate movement and look for reasons to stay hopeful.
What message do you have for today’s political or business leaders?
We have almost run out of time, we are in the last 30 seconds of the game of our lives, but we still have a shot to make things better.
The climate crisis is happening right now. All countries are living in a new era of climate change never experienced before in human history. Your predecessors, and perhaps you yourselves, have failed to take the necessary actions to stop this, but there’s no better time for redemption than right now.
We need to move past old ideas of borders and selfish interests and start thinking of the climate crisis as the race to save humankind. We need to think beyond the doom and gloom, and focus on the bright, sustainable, fair future we can build together.
Why is it important to you to be in the negotiating room at COP28?
For a very long time I focused on individual action and what I could add to the climate movement. However, this perspective quickly made me feel frustrated, since as much as I cared and did on my own, nothing was getting better. I realized that we need collective action and that there are endless ways I can get involved with others and increase my impact.
Attending COP28 and being in the negotiation room feels like the epitome of many years of action, because I will finally be there in the rooms where big decisions are made. I will be representing all the other young people, who just like me are frustrated, anxious, and angry. For me, this feels like I will be able to be part of something so much bigger – the biggest climate change event there is – and a chance to collaborate in the negotiation for a livable future.
What issues will you be following in the climate negotiations?
I will be following and working on the Global Stocktake track. The Global Stocktake is like an inventory of the climate action taken so far, and an assessment of whether this activity is on track for the Paris Agreement goals. This report will give us an opportunity to identify where further effort and ambition is needed. Coming from Costa Rica, a country that has made huge strides in carbon reduction, this topic is extremely important to me because it will show how far we’ve come and what we can do to improve. There are a lot of positives to focus on here – the news may focus on doom and gloom, but there are also steps being taken and more than we can plan for. It’s possible for us to step up our game and do more together to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Another area I’m interested in is adaptation – both the definition of the Global Goal on Adaptation and the need for further adaptation finance. Since I am from a small country in the tropics, I am used to watching news about how natural disasters often hit vulnerable communities, year after year. This awful cycle in which poor people are the most impacted will only get worse with climate change and it is exactly where adaptation comes in. If we invest enough and plan enough in this area, the ways we adapt to climate change can lead to a fairer future. In this way, addressing the climate crisis can be an opportunity to build a brighter, more sustainable, more inclusive future for everyone. This is why I find adaptation so important.
How do you spend your free time?
I became vegan five years ago, and I started to bake desserts since it was challenging finding vegan cakes back then. This is something I still enjoy to this day because I get to share the results with my friends and family.
I also like to read about any and all topics. Recently, I’ve been reading about dog behavior – I have two puppies and am really focused on how to educate them and make them happy.
Fashion is another one of my interests – I like to style my clothes in creative ways, always supporting sustainable brands of course! Soon I want to learn how to knit so that I can make my own tops and sweaters.
Finally, I am passionate about different cultures and studying languages. I am fluent in Italian and I have a basic level of Mandarin.