Want to Motivate People to Act on Climate Change? Ask Them How They Want to Be Remembered

blog-personal legacy-1.5.15More and more Americans are aware of the dangers of climate change – but that doesn’t always translate to action. Often, more immediate concerns such as paying bills or caring for their families take priority. Communications that show how climate solutions answer those concerns (by reducing air pollution, for example, or by lowering energy costs) can help engage people on the issue. Appealing to people’s moral duty to care for those less fortunate has also been effective. But as this Washington Post article points out, the most impactful message may be one that combines the tendency towards self-interest with the desire to help others – in short, encouraging people to think about their personal legacy.
Our own messaging research reached a similar conclusion. People respond with greater urgency when climate action is linked to creating a better world for future generations. It’s not just about caring for their children and grandchildren – they are also thinking about how they want to be remembered. Will they be seen as good and virtuous? Once they knew that climate change was a problem, did they work together towards a positive solution?
This message is effective because, rather than laying blame or describing scary scenarios, it speaks to people’s sense of pride in building something and doing the right thing. For more climate messaging tips, download our report, Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans.

Here’s the Secret to Making People Care About Climate Change

By Ezra Markowitz and Lisa Zaval, contributors to The Washington Post
Make them think about their legacy.
Here’s a depressing statistic if you’re worried about climate change: 63 percent of Americans say they’re concerned about the issue, but only 47 percent think the government should do anything about it.
That divide, known as the “attitude-behavior” gap, isn’t all that uncommon. And activists and politicians have tried all kinds of strategies to address it. They’ve appealed to people’s better nature (“Help save the children!”) and to their self-interest (“You’ll get a tax write-off!”).
Each of these methods can work under certain conditions, but both have their limitations. What if there were a way to combine the best aspects of each — to use an appeal that simultaneously targets self-interest and our desire to help others in need? Our research suggests a promising way to do just that — by encouraging people to consider their own future legacy.
Read more
Image credit: Travis Swan/flickr

2 Responses to “Want to Motivate People to Act on Climate Change? Ask Them How They Want to Be Remembered”

  1. Ezra… nice, logical thought, but how do you take it out of the academic theory world and practically apply it? What do you say to people to get them to make the connection? What groups of people would this work with? If you deny climate change, or a human role in it, being remembered for stopping it is irrelevant to you.
    It might work with people who kind of get it and need to be pushed to action, but we’ve been making those legacy/heritage arguements for many years now- nothing new.

  2. The investigators ruled out the argument that mood drives people to act. They found that “happiness” levels were similar regardless of which group they were in. “It’s because power gives people a sense of control, not happiness, that it inspires more confident action taking,” he said.

Leave a Reply