What motivates people?

In the famous novel and movie Les Miserables readers/viewers tend to identify and sympathise with Jean Valjean, because he is motivated by a desire to do good, and in most peoples' views he does good. He made a 'promise to God' to live a good life. Is he motivated mainly by his fear of damnation if he breaks that promise, or does he see doing good as a duty of every person?

Javert, the policeman who devotes his life to 'bringing Valjean to justice' is motivated by what he sees as doing his duty. In his twisted view, the right and good thing. The author, Victor Hugo, makes it obvious to the reader that Javert is misguided.

In the modern world people are sometimes judged by whether they are 'successful' or not; success, it seems, being measured in how much wealth they have managed to accumulate. Doing good is one motivation we can have in our lives, making money is another.

I am Australia and this page is written very much from an Australian point of view; my apologies to non-Australians.

This page was started 2020/05/11, last edited 2021/11/24
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

It is interesting to try to understand what motivates people, especially those with a high public profile. In what follows I have tried to imagine what motivates some well known people. Obviously the motivations that I have ascribed to those people are no more than my opinion.


Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs that is very relevant here. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have fulfilled the lower level needs can consider aims beyond the basics of surviving and living.
The primary motivation of many of the world's people, who are malnourished, are unable to feed their children or have nowhere safe and comfortable to live, is hardly more than simply surviving. Even in the relatively wealthy West, many people have to work at several jobs just to 'make ends meet'.

But for everyone, especially perhaps those of us who have the luxury of being economically secure, the question arrises of how should we live our lives? What should we aim at? Should we simply look after ourselves or should we look beyond ourselves?

High profile people who would appear to have creditable motivations

Fred Hollows, eye surgeon
Devoted the later part of his life to ending unnecessary blindness.

Dalai Lama (14th Dalai Lama, religious name: Tenzin Gyatso, born Lhamo Thondup), Tibetan Buddhist leader and moral philosopher
Tenzin Gyatso has written and made public statements encouraging people to be compassionate.

Peter Singer, philosopher
A desire to understand the world of Man and to communicate his findings to others; trying to show people how they can do good; animal rights campaigner.

David Attenborough, broadcaster and natural historian
David has produced documentaries informing people about the natural world for decades, and he tirelessly warns everyone about the dangers that come from not looking after our environment.

Tim Flannery, environmentalist
A life long interest in environmental matters and the communication of his concerns to others and to try to get action on protecting our shared environment

Andrew (Twiggy) Forrest; billionaire, philanthropist
"In 2013, Forrest and his wife, Nicola, were the first Australians to pledge the majority of their wealth to charity in their lifetimes." (He has been accused of avoiding paying company tax.) It seems to me that, at least in recent years, he is enjoying trying to do good deeds.

High profile people who would appear to have discreditable motivations

Angus Taylor, Australia's Energy Minister
Ambition? Greed? Protecting the fossil fuel industry because it supports the Liberal Party?

Andrew Bolt, shock-jock
Pleasing his boss, Rupert Murdoch, and thereby keeping his highly paid job. Writing anything controversial, irrespective of its validity, that will please his right-wing climate science denying, anti-renewable-energy, readership.

Alan Jones, shock-jock
Notoriety, conceit, narcissism, maintaining a high profile position in the public's eye, greed. Pandering to his right-wing audience.

Clive Palmer, billionaire
Using his wealth (largely gained from coal mining) to make himself famous, at the same time as making more money

Gina Rinehart, riches person in Australia
Simple and insatiable greed. (Should she decide to do good she could, for example, give $5000 to each of the million poorest people in Australia and still be the richest person in the country. I write this, not to suggest that it would be the best thing that she could do, but to try to give an indication of how much good she could do if she wanted to.)

Motivation for the rest of us

What motivates people to vote for a green party? What motivates people to try to minimise the climate change disaster? What motivates people to donate blood? What motivates people to plant trees on public land? What motivates people to pick up the rubbish that others leave in public places? What motivates people to contribute to their community? What motivates people to be companionate?

I'd argue that in all these cases it is mainly a desire to be altruistic; to make the world a better place, to help other people, to improve our shared environment.

North Brown Hill Wind Farm
Photo taken by my Phantom 3 Advanced drone, 2017/09/15

Spring Gully Conservation Park
Red stringybark dying
The trees with the dark bark in this photo are red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha). Many of them were dying due to climate change.
This park is a few kilometres from my place.

What is my motivation?

As, I would think, for most people, I do not have a single motivation, but one of my main motivations is to try to get action on climate change.

The photo on the right shows red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) trees suffering from a particularly hot and dry summer. With climate change such summers are becoming more common. Spring Gully Conservation Park was established because it is the main concentration of red stringybark trees in the area, and the Clare region is the only place in the state where this species grows. Climate change may well cause its local extinction.

My region, Mid-North South Australia, happens to be where most of the development of Australian wind power happened in the fifteen or so years from 2003 (from around 2018 the other states, particularly Victoria, were catching up). Because of that, it became the main centre of wind power opposition in Australia, much of which has been based on fallacious claims. I have been trying to counter and expose the lies and delusions spread by those who have opposed wind power.

We must have wind power and other forms of renewable and sustainable energy if we are to combat climate change.

Related pages

Related pages on external sites...

Peter Singer and his philosophy (Wikipedia); of particular relevance to this page is his book 'How Are We to Live?', but there are many others too.

Related pages on this site...



Opposition to wind power or coal mining; the motivations

Selfishness or altruism?

The good and the bad

Why oppose wind power?