It is generally accepted that human behaviour needs to change if the depredations of climate change are to be reduced. Yet despite overwhelming evidence for this need there has been remarkably little modification of what people do. This paper introduces the environmental science community to the general area of environmental psychology. It argues that there is a need to look beyond scientific facts about the environment if human environmental activity is to change. This essay looks for roots of our present understanding of human interactions with the environment in the early Romantic Movement rather than scientific discoveries. Behaviour in disasters and emergencies is also considered to explain the fundamental psychosocial reasons why human activity will not change until there are incontrovertible experiences that demonstrate that the social rules that shape how we interact with our surroundings (‘rules of place’) must be changed. The argument draws on a literature not usually considered by those concerned with climate change to indicate why it is that people carry on with their quotidian actions until it is clear they can no longer be sustained.This reflects a common human tendency to leave it too late to act in the face of growing threats. Implications of this perspective are discussed.