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Understanding justification of climate change nonaction

Participating Researchers


Sometimes it might look as though the great obstacle to sustainable change is climate skepticism. In Sweden and large parts of Europe, however, skepticism is a marginal problem. The vast majority is actually knowledgeable and positive towards sustainability. However, there is a gap between knowledge and action.

To act against our conviction results in discomfort for most people. This is sometimes called cognitive dissonance. Our hypothesis is that we try to manage this dissonance by justifying our choices in different ways, both individually and on a collective level. In a pilot carried out during the fall of 2017 we could see that a common way to justify flying for example, was to imagine a personal climate account. If you bike to work, sort your waste and eat vegetarian, you deserve a trip to Asia over Christmas.

The gap between knowledge and action has been studied in a number of disciplines. We want to investigate further how these legitimization processes work for people in their everyday life in Sweden by using the aristotelian topos theory. We also want to find out how these topoi are addressed in the public discourse on climate change and transition. Our unique contribution is to study these processes as culturally situated, but also as an internal dialogue.

The project runs 2019-2021 and is financed by The Swedish foundation for humanities and social sciences, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.


Peer-reviewed articles and chapters

E. Eriksson, M. Wolrath Söderberg & N. Wormbs, “ Exceptionalism and Evasion : How Scholars Reason About Air Travel ”. in Academic Flying and the Means of Communication, Kristian Bjørkdahl & Adrian Santiago Franco Duharte (eds.). Palgrave Macmillan, 2022. (

Wolrath Söderberg, M. & Wormbs, N. (2022). ”Internal Deliberation Defending Climate-Harmful Behavior”, Argumentation: an international journal on reasoning, Feb 4 (2022)

N. Wormbs and M. Wolrath Söderberg, “Knowledge, Fear, and Conscience: Reasons to Stop Flying Because of Climate Change”, Urban Planning, Vol. 6, no 2, 314-324, 2021.

Wormbs, N., Wolrath Söderberg, M. Thinking structures of climate delay: internal deliberations among Swedes with sustainable ambitions . Environ Dev Sustain (2023).

Peer-commented report

N. Wormbs och M. Wolrath Söderberg, "Grounded - Beyond flygskam," Stockholm: Fores, Stockholm and European Liberal Forum, Bryssel, 2019.

Daily press

Wormbs, N. (2021). Så används Kina som argument för att inte agera i klimatfrågan. Dagens Nyheter.

Wormbs, N. (2020). Nästa konflikt på jobbet kan handla om rätten att resa. Publikt.

Wormbs, N. & Wolrath Söderberg, M. (2019). Skippa flygskammen - kunskapen är viktigare. Aftonbladet (5/Dec).

Wormbs, N. (2019). Så kan den nya klimatsorgen bli en politisk handling. Dagens Nyheter (2019-01-14).

Wormbs, N. (2019). Så leder individens handlingar till kollektiva lösningar i klimatfrågan. Dagens Nyheter (2019-07-01).