Hidden in the IPCC’s latest climate report is a solution to reducing carbon emissions that gets less attention than solar panels or electric cars: “choice architecture,” or behavioral design, that can help influence consumers to make better decisions for the climate, whether that’s biking to work or eating less meat.
Sammi Munson, John Kotcher, Edward Maibach, Seth A Rosenthal, Anthony Leiserowitz (2021). “The role of felt responsibility in climate change political participation.” Oxford Open Climate Change, 1(1), kgab012. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfclm/kgab012 [open access]]
Abstract: This research letter investigates the role of feelings of responsibility to reduce climate change (i.e. ‘felt responsibility’) as an antecedent to climate change-related political behaviors and intentions, including willingness to join a campaign, likelihood of supporting pro-climate presidential candidates and past contact with elected officials. Using nationally representative survey data (n = 1029), we find that felt responsibility has a significant positive relationship with future behavioral intent, but not past behavior. Implications and future research are discussed.
Energy efficiency program administrators across the U.S. and Canada have been working together to improve the performance of their Strategic Energy Management (SEM) programs. While SEM can support decarbonization of operations at customer sites and often provides other non-energy benefits, these programs are challenging to administer and implement and they rely on customer commitment. To ensure program offerings meet customers’ needs while maintaining flexibility, a committee of program administrators from the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), with input from their SEM implementation contractors, is looking at the key role of behavioral science in making SEM more effective and inspiring customer commitment. The committee is also determining how to most effectively evaluate energy-saving measures that leverage behavioral science.
To cite an example: at a recent CEE Industry Partners session, an SEM implementer illustrated the importance of employee engagement in making the cultural shift to SEM. One way he leverages behavioral science in practice is through treasure hunts, which support customer buy-in to SEM.
To further explore this topic and work toward concrete demonstration of verifiable SEM impacts, a panel of several program administrators and SEM implementers will discuss the role of behavioral science in SEM based on their observations so far. Panelist presentations will be followed by facilitated discussion.
If you’ve been following our posts and talks, then you’re already up to speed on this: Americans love recycling. It’s the No. 1 thing they think companies should be doing to positively affect purchase decisions by the consumer. And 85 percent of our fellow citizens agree that recycling is the bare minimum that we can each do for the environment.
But there are some cracks in this belief system. And brands, materials manufacturers and packaging makers need to pay attention.
Poškus, M. S. (2022). “Toward the Development and Validation of a Model of Environmental Citizenship of Young Adults.” Sustainability 14(6), 3338. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su14063338.
Abstract: Growing civic participation in environmental movements shows that societies are more engaging in behavior that can be described as environmental citizenship. This behavior, however, may not necessarily be driven by factual knowledge and accurate beliefs. In the present study, a simplified model of environmental citizenship proposed by Hawthorne and Alabaster is tested in a sample of Lithuanian young adults in order to develop a working model of environmental citizenship that could be later used in intervention designs as a change model. A convenience sample of 267 young adults from 18 to 40 years of age participated in the study by filling in a questionnaire that assessed various components that comprise a model of environmental citizenship. The results indicate that, with a few modifications to better fit the data, the model fit the data well and could explain approximately 50% of the variance of environmental citizenship. The study uncovered a gap between factual (concrete) environmental knowledge and environmental literacy (perceived competence), illustrating the need to address this divide in order to ensure evidence-based participation in environmental movements and environmental citizenship behavior.
Despite abundant technical agency, humanity is alarmingly short of psychological agency: belief in one’s personal ability to help. A 10-country survey study in the Lancet, a British medical journal, found that more than half of young people ages 16-25 feel afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless and helpless about climate change.
As professors, we bring complementary perspectives to the challenges of taking action on climate change. Tom Bateman studies psychology and leadership, and Michael Mann is a climate scientist and author of the recent book “The New Climate War.”
As greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuel use accumulate in the atmosphere, they warm the planet. Rising global temperatures have fueled worsening heat waves, rising sea levels and more intense storms that become increasingly harder to adapt to. A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes some of the dangerous disruptions already underway, and how they are putting people and the environment at risk.
Just like humans can choose to drive gas-guzzlers, they can also choose to act in ways that influence the climate, air quality and public health for the better. Scientific knowledge and countless opportunities for action make that agency possible.
A key part of agency is one’s belief, when faced with a task to perform, a situation to manage, or a long-term goal like protecting the climate, that “I can do this.” It’s known as self-efficacy.
This may be the most important psychological factor in predicting how well people will cope with both climate change and COVID-19, recent online survey data from Europe indicate. People feeling adequate agency are more likely to persevere, rebound from setbacks and perform at high levels.
To build agency for something that can feel as daunting as climate change, focus first on the facts. In the case of climate change: Greenhouse gas emissions cause the most harm, and people can help far more than they realize.
Successful agency has four psychological drivers, all of which can be strengthened with practice:
1) Intentionality: “I choose my climate goals and actions for high impact.”
Deciding to act with purpose—knowing what you intend to do–is far more effective than thinking “My heart’s in the right place, I just have to find the time.”
In the big picture, one’s highest climate efficacy is in participating in larger efforts to stop fossil fuel use. People can set specific ambitious goals for reducing personal and household energy use and join others in collective actions.
2) Forethought: “I am looking ahead and thinking strategically about how to proceed.”
Knowing your goals, you can think strategically and develop an action plan. Some plans support relatively simple goals involving individual lifestyle changes, such as adjusting consumption and travel patterns. Wider reaching actions can help change systems – such as long-term activities that advocate for climate-friendly policies and politicians, or against policies that are harmful. These include demonstrations and voter campaigns.
3) Self-regulation: “I can manage myself over time to optimize my efforts and effectiveness.”
Worrying about the future is becoming a lifelong task—off and on for some, constant for others. Climate change will cause disasters and scarcities, disrupt lives and careers, heighten stress and harm public health. Seeing progress and working with others can help relieve stress.
4) Self-reflection: “ I will periodically assess my effectiveness, rethink strategies and tactics, and make necessary adjustments.”
It’s difficult to imagine a greater need for lifelong learning than as we navigate decades of climate change, its many harms and efforts by fossil fuel companies to obscure the facts. Reflection – or, more precisely, keeping up with the latest science, learning and adapting – is vital as the future keeps presenting new challenges.
Personal agency is only the first step
Even seemingly minor first steps can help reduce carbon emissions and lead to paths of greater action, but individual actions are only part of the solution. Big polluters often urge consumers to take small personal actions, which can deflect attention from the need for large-scale policy interventions.
Individual agency should be seen as a gateway for group efforts that can more quickly and effectively change the trajectory of climate change.
“Collective agency” is another form of agency. A critical mass of people can create societal [tipping points] that pressure industry and policymakers to move more quickly, safely and equitably to implement policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Helping to elect local, state and national officials who support protecting the climate, and influencing investors and leaders of corporations and associations, can also create a sense of agency, known as “proxy agency.”
Together, these efforts can rapidly improve humanity’s capacity to solve problems and head off disasters. Fixing the world’s climate mess requires both urgency and a sense of agency to create the best possible future.
When it comes to climate-friendly behavior, there is often a gap between what we want and what we actually do. Although most people want to see climate change slowed down, many do not behave in an appropriately sustainable way. Researchers have now used brain stimulation to demonstrate that the ability to sympathize with the future victims of climate change encourages sustainable behavior.