As the weather starts to get cold in the UK, I have noticed an increasing number of smokers bundled up and huddled in corners outside, cigarette in hand. Smokers are an interesting bunch, and they are a big bunch (the World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people smoke).

Doctor offices are full of pamphlets on how to quit smoking and cigarette packs are covered in graphic pictures showing exactly what smoking can do you. Again according to the WHO, Tobacco kills up to half of its users. But still, despite all this, 1/6th of the world’s population smokes. What fascinates me is that the majority of smokers I know know smoking is bad for them but they do it anyways.

This is what we have to deal with too when it comes to sustainability. We do a lot of work raising awareness about sustainability issues with the general public. The belief is, in part, that if people knew the bad things happening around the world to our environment and society they would do something about it, do something to change it, especially if they had the power to do so. But despite this many people don’t act, they know that some of their actions are harmful to the environment, but they do them anyways, not unlike the smokers in the corner.

Having ads showing environmental destruction or even cute polar bears seem to have just as much impact as those pictures of burnt organs on cigarette packs at changing behavior. So perhaps it has less to do with increasing awareness and more to do with taking a look at the human brain and exploring why we do the things we do.