Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Psychologists Claudia Nisa and Jocelyn J. Bélanger believe even people who say they believe in climate change are unlikely to make low carbon choices unless they are “nudged”, by removing or disincentivising the option of making high carbon choices.
Can You Change for Climate Change?
Probably, but research shows that most people need behavioral “nudges” to do so; just the facts aren’t enough
By Claudia Nisa, Jocelyn Bélanger on December 23, 2019
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has scolded world leaders for failing to save her generation from climate change, rallying youth climate strikes and taking millions of people to the streets worldwide, demanding action. For many, Thunberg’s emotional oratory is a spark.
To us, however, Thunberg’s environmental actions are more impressive than her words. Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard a zero-emission sailboat to attend September’s climate talks in New York, eating freeze-dried food, not showering, and eschewing other comforts of air travel to spend 15 days on the high seas.
Thunberg’s sacrifice epitomizes the challenge underlying climate change: if global warming is to be curbed, comfortable lifestyles in developed countries must be amended. Put another way, it doesn’t matter how much uproar an activist’s speech creates because it distracts from the fundamental fact that the only way to save our planet is to change how we live.
But our research, which was recently published in Nature Communications, throws ice water on a theory that was already frosty. People do not change their environmental behaviors simply because they are told to. Rather, they must be enticed to make greener lifestyle choices with interventions sufficiently compelling to overcome the strong resistance to changing habitual, comfy habits. Identifying these motivators, and the psychology behind them, could help slow the climate-change crisis.
Read more: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/can-you-change-for-climate-change/
The abstract of the study;
Meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials testing behavioural interventions to promote household action on climate change
Claudia F. Nisa, Jocelyn J. Bélanger, Birga M. Schumpe & Daiane G. Faller
No consensus exists regarding which are the most effective mechanisms to promote household action on climate change. We present a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials comprising 3,092,678 observations, which estimates the effects of behavioural interventions holding other factors constant. Here we show that behavioural interventions promote climate change mitigation to a very small degree while the intervention lasts (d = −0.093 95% CI −0.160, −0.055), with no evidence of sustained positive effects once the intervention ends. With the exception of recycling, most household mitigation behaviours show a low behavioural plasticity. The intervention with the highest average effect size is choice architecture (nudges) but this strategy has been tested in a limited number of behaviours. Our results do not imply behavioural interventions are less effective than alternative strategies such as financial incentives or regulations, nor exclude the possibility that behavioural interventions could have stronger effects when used in combination with alternative strategies.
“Choice architecture” sounds so innocuous, but in my opinion it is a deeply unpleasant form of government coercion.
For example, in 2012 Britain banned incandescent lightbulbs, following a phaseout which began in 2009.
The available alternative to incandescent light bulbs at the time was compact fluorescent lightbulbs like the one pictured above, which flicker and contain small quantities of toxic mercury.
I once managed to accidentally break two fragile compact fluorescents on one day, trying to replace a bulb in an awkward location. I was less than enthusiastic about splattering microscopic droplets of mercury around a confined indoor space used by my child. But the low carbon “choice architecture” imposed by the British Government didn’t grant me the option of choosing a safer but less energy efficient incandescent lightbulb.
Imagine if your entire life was constrained by a series of such “nudges”. The nanny state coercion might well drive you to reduce your carbon footprint – but I doubt politicians and bureaucrats would care about any problems caused by their restriction of your freedom, their imposition of “choice architecture”; the government’s desire to force you to cut your carbon footprint would override any personal concerns you might have about the choices they imposed on your life.
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