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Climate, Affluence, and Culture

09 December 2008

As a warm-blooded species, humans thrive in temperate climates and must take more adaptive measures if they are living in colder or hotter regions of the world. But how do human societies create links between climate and culture? And what cultures do they create? For centuries, this remained one of the greatest unsolved problems of science. Only now, in “Climate, Affluence, and Culture” by Evert Van de Vliert (Cambridge University Press, December 2008), is that classic problem beginning to be tackled successfully. Following are a brief description of the book, a bio of the author, and web references for more detailed information.

“Climate, Affluence, and Culture” is built on two claims and twelve studies. The first claim is that the ultimate origin of culture lies in the degree of deviation from temperate temperatures. Everyone, everyday, everywhere has to cope with climatic cold or heat to satisfy survival needs for thermal comfort, nutrition, and health. In temperate climates, with temperatures varying slightly around the livability optimum of 22oC (72oF), cultural adaptation is not much of a problem. By contrast, colder-than-temperate and hotter-than-temperate climates, deviating more sharply from the livability optimum, call for more cultural adaptation in the longer run. The second claim is that cultural adaptation to climate is dependent on how much cash (ready money) and capital (unready money) a society has available to cope with temperate seasons, bitter winters, or scorching summers. These two claims served as point of departure for a large-scale research project from the mid-90s onward. Starting point was the tenet that climate and affluence are the Adam and Eve of all present-day cultures, influencing each other’s impact on culture.

Step by step, the international research team, led by Evert Van de Vliert, discovered survival cultures in poor countries with demanding cold or hot climates, self-expression cultures in rich countries with demanding cold or hot climates, and easygoing cultures in poor and rich countries with temperate climates. Survival cultures are characterized by unhappiness, child labor, working for money, selfishness, autocratic leadership, press repression, and bureaucratic organizations managed by relatives. Self-expression cultures are characterized by happiness, no child labor, working for achievement, cooperativeness, democratic leadership, press freedom, and flexible organizations managed by professionals. Easygoing cultures stand midway between survival and self-expression cultures, and are further characterized by lower suicide rates, and more traditionality and religiosity. These social-psychological discoveries are very important, now of all times, owing to two huge threats humanity faces today: global warming and local poverty. In the concluding chapter, climate protection and poverty reduction are used in combination to sketch four scenarios for shaping cultures, from which the world community has to make a principal and principled choice soon.

Evert Van de Vliert received his PhD from the Free University in Amsterdam in 1973, and held teacher and researcher positions at the same university, at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and at the Royal Military Academy in the Netherlands. He served as chairman of the Dutch Research Association of Social and Organizational Psychologists (1984–1989) and as research director of the Kurt Lewin Institute (1993–1996). He has published more than 200 journal articles, chapters, and books, including Complex Interpersonal Conflict Behaviour: Theoretical Frontiers (1997). In 2005, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Association for Conflict Management. At present, he is professor emeritus of organizational and applied social psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and research professor of work and organizational psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway. His current research concentrates on cross-national comparisons, with an emphasis on the impact of cold, temperate, and hot climates on national, regional, and organizational cultures.

For more information on the book, go to:

For an overview of climate-culture links, go to “Climates Create Cultures”:

For more information on the author, go to:

Last modified:11 January 2018 11.53 a.m.

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