Turning Concern Into Action on Climate Change
The majority of Americans believe climate change is happening and that we can do something about it. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean climate action is a priority for them. How can we inspire them to change their behavior?
This Washington Post article offers a clue. According to a study of consumers in Buenos Aires, charging a small fee for plastic bags led to a dramatic increase in people carrying their own bags. Some simply didn’t want to pay the extra money, but others were motivated by environmental concerns. The bag fee caused them to change their habits by altering the status quo – now that they had to make a conscious decision about the bags, they decided to take the more environmentally friendly route.
Small steps really can make a difference, because they contain links to the bigger picture. People may not respond to issues presented on a global scale, or to solutions they consider a sacrifice. But if we focus on solutions that are directly relevant to them, and highlight the benefits of those solutions, we can inspire them to change their habits and make climate action a part of their daily lives. Then, we can scale up to larger issues and broader solutions.
For more about crafting an effective message on climate change, check out our 13 Steps and Guiding Principles.
Chris Mooney, Contributor to The Washington Post
If you live in Washington, you know the drill: After bagging your groceries, the checkout machine asks you how many bags you used. And if you used plastic or disposable bags (rather than bags you brought on your own), you have to pay 5 cents per bag. The District passed a law requiring as much in 2009 – a policy that states like New Jersey and New York are also considering, and that has been adopted around the world from Ireland and Scotland to South Africa.
Some localities have gone farther still – California and Hawaii have effectively banned plastic bags outright – but recent research suggests that charges or fees can also be effective (and have the added benefit of being less coercive). Moreover, it suggests that they work, at least in part, through a surprising mechanism. It’s not just the relatively minor added cost, on its own, that impels people to stop using plastic bags and to instead bring their own bags with them to the store. Rather, it’s the way this small change disrupts habitual behaviors and helps people draw a tighter linkage between the environmental awareness that they already possess, and actions in the world that actually advance that consciousness and their values.
Image credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post