Need something else for your growing to-do list? Environmentalists have about a million things for you to give or take.
Chances are you’ve heard a lot by now: ditch your car for a bike, take fewer flights, and go vegan. Oh, and put solar panels on your roof, dry your clothes on a clothesline, use less water when brushing your teeth, take shorter showers… hey, where are you going? We’re just getting started!
For decades, we have been told that the solution to our global crisis begins with us. These “Simple” advice are so ubiquitous that they are usually not questioned. But that doesn’t mean most people have the time or the motivation to take it into account. In fact, new research suggests that hearing ecological advice like this makes people less likely to do anything about climate change. Oops! Experts say there are better ways to get people to adopt eco-friendly habits, and they don’t involve harassing or blaming them.
In the study “entitled”Do not tell me what to do– Researchers at Georgia State University surveyed nearly 2,000 people online to see how they would react to different messages about climate change. Some have seen posts about personal sacrifice, like using less hot water. Others have seen statements about policy measures, like laws that would limit carbon emissions, stop deforestation, or increase fuel efficiency standards for cars. The messenger, scientific or not, didn’t make much of a difference.
Next, respondents were asked about their views on climate change. People who read the messages about individual responsibilities were less likely to report believing in human-caused climate change, less likely to support climate-friendly political candidates, and less likely to take action to reduce their own emissions.
While the advice on personal behavior elicited a negative response from people of all political backgrounds, the effect was much stronger among Republicans than Democrats, said Risa Palm, professor of urban geography at Georgia State and lead author of the study.
On the other hand, “when the message was related to policy issues, it didn’t have that kind of negative effect,” she said. The Palm study reinforces previous research that people prefer large-scale changes that don’t require them to change their own behavior. They just don’t feel that anything they could do would make a big difference.
This is a valid point of view, according to Sarah McFarland Taylor, the author of Ecopiety: green media and the environmental virtue dilemma. The scope of proposed green solutions – such as, for example, getting people to use less hot water – is simply “absurd” compared to the scale of the problem, she said.
Taylor, associate professor of religious studies at Northwestern, uses the term “eco-friendliness” to refer to voluntary duties that signal a person’s “green” virtue – driving a Toyota Prius, filling up a Nalgene, or ordering a salad instead of a hamburger . “We’re fiddling with all these fine little details about eco-friendliness while the world is on fire,” she said.
“The point is, a small group of people who have the means and the resources to carry out these voluntary individual actions will do them,” Taylor said. “And the rest of the people won’t.”
Why people so resistant to climate-friendly behavior? It comes down to psychology. When people don’t like the solutions presented to them, or when they feel their freedom is threatened, they can deny that there is a problem, Palm said.
When the Toyota Prius was launched around the world in 2000, it was marketed as a virtuous, climate-friendly buy because it ran on gas and electricity. “There was an unintended rebound effect, with some sectors of the population reacting in a very hostile way,” Taylor said. Years later, owners of diesel trucks began “coal rolling»: Removed emissions controls and installed their vehicles to spit out giant clouds of smoke, targeted at pedestrians, cyclists and unsuspecting Prius owners.