Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Education Richard Ryan, Ph.D. is well-known and well-respected. He is widely known in the psychology community for his theories and research involving human motivation and is known campus-wide as an entertaining and intelligent lecturer.

Last Wednesday, Sloan Auditorium, a small auditorium in Goergen Hall, was filled with many students and a few interested adults who came to listen to Ryan deliver his lecture on one of the most prominent problems facing our generation: the energy crisis and subsequent destruction of our planet.

Ryan’s speech was the third installment in a series of Sustainable Energy Lectures, brought to UR by its new Virtual Institute for Energy, among other organizations. However, Ryan’s speech was a bit different from those that have preceded it; instead of exploring the energy crisis from a scientific end, he chose to approach the subject through the psychological – a.k.a. human demand – end of this international problem.

“The behavioral side is a huge part of the solution,” Ryan said, referring to the way that individuals act in regards to energy consumption and demands from the Earth.

Ryan began his lecture with a haunting look into the typical “life goals” of Gen Nexters – that is, young adults around ages 18 to 25. He held the crowd’s attention by explaining that, according to his research, people of our generation list “getting rich” as either their first or second most important goal for all life achievements. But is this what really brings happiness? Not at all.

According to many of the studies Ryan cited, people who are more into money and other extrinsic goals (like physical attractiveness and fame) are less happy, more anxious and less independent than those focused on intrinsic goals (like good personal relationships and helping one’s community). Additionally, Ryan shared one of his studies that detailed how, contrary to popular belief, buying things does not actually make you feel any happier inside.

So what do all these theories mean to the energy crisis that faces our generation? The Gen Nexters are facing the responsibility of drastically cutting energy consumption, but, at the same time, we are the generation that is the most materialistic. As Ryan showed, the more an individual (or in this case, a generation) is occupied with money, the less he or she cares about doing things that are more prosocial. Higher materialism leads to more waste and a larger ecological footprint, which will cause a faster demise to our planet.

Obviously, there is no quick fix for this problem. In his lecture, Ryan offered a few alternatives to materialism, but all involve serious changes in our entire culture’s thoughts and goals. If, culturally, we can learn to encourage the things that bring individuals intrinsic happiness, like nature, working together for the community and building interpersonal relationships, our energy problems will begin to improve as a side effect.

It is up to our generation to teach these ways of living, and organizations like the Virtual Institute for Energy are helping to get the message out. As Ryan said, “Less is going to be more if we want to make ourselves happy? and a side benefit may be we save our Earth for a few more years.”

The next installment of the Sustainable Energy Lecture Series is a talk from Professor of Chemistry and Physics Wolf-Udo Schrder on Wednesday, March 5 at 4 p.m. The event will take place in Sloan Auditorium in Goergen Hall.

Herman is a member of the class of 2008.

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