Positive Energy: Harnessing People Power to Prevent Climate Change
The report of the week is "Positive Energy: Harnessing People Power to Prevent Climate Change"
This is the latest in a number of posts i have written about this challenge, that is engendering social change. I take this very seriously, almost as seriously as the science. Overall climate campaigners are pretty awful communicators. That is, we can get our message across to people like us but not the wider public.
Simon Retalleck, one of the report authors was one of the speakers at a recent campaign against climate change conference. The video of this speech along with those of Solitaire Townsend and Chris Rose can be found here.
An essay relating to the 'positive energy' report is appened bellow.
A glance at recent opinion polls reveals that a clear majority of the UK public is concerned about climate change. But when we look at what people are actually doing about it, the facts speak for themselves. Almost two thirds of homes that could have cavity-wall insulation have not installed it. Under 0.4 per cent of UK households generate any form of renewable energy. Public transport makes up only 8 per cent of the total number of trips made. And sales of low-carbon vehicles amounted to just 0.3 per cent of the car market in 2005.
The energy individuals use is responsible for 44 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. Engaging with the public to overcome the barriers to change is therefore critical to reducing the country’s overall contribution to climate change.
Decades of theoretical development and empirical research from different disciplines – ranging from psychology and anthropology to economics – have given us a much clearer idea of how, and why, behaviour changes. There is no single silver bullet. But critical to a successful approach is the deployment of interventions that work with, or on, the main internal and external factors that drive behaviour.
In designing interventions, policymakers have been relatively good at working with some internal influences on behaviour, such as wealth and age, as well as with some external influences, such as financial rewards and penalties, legal rules and infrastructure. They have been less good at factoring in other influences.
Important internal influences that need to be taken into account include:
different psychological motivations the drive to seek status and forge identities
emotions habits mental shortcuts (combining bits of information together and using rules to make decisions faster and more easily about how to act) the need for a sense of responsibility and agency to act differently.
Important external influences that need to be factored in include:
the behaviour and attitudes of others (whilst noting that we do not learn equally from everyone) the dominant social and cultural norms (often shaped by the media and commercial organisations) which give us social proof about how to behave
the nature of the experiences that people have (evidence suggests direct experiences are more powerful than indirect ones) the rewards and penalties (beyond the financial) that are in place.
With a more complete understanding of how and why people behave the way they do, we stand a much better chance of deploying the most effective tools and techniques available to achieve behaviour change.
Often, the most important first step is to provide people with alternatives that are convenient and affordable, since their capacity to act is often constrained by the amount of free time and money they have. We also know the importance of making sure that alternatives at least appear to be affordable, by providing ways of spreading any upfront costs over time. This is because of the mental shortcuts that people take, which mean that they are affected more by losses than gains, and discount the future and any delayed benefits from change.
Asking people to make public commitments to change (and deploying prompts to remind them to do so) can be effective too, by raising people’s consciousness about habitual behaviours. Publicly made commitments can also increase people’s sense of responsibility for changing their behaviour.
Giving people feedback on attempts to change behaviour, providing face-to-face engagement, and involving people in group-level change can also increase their sense of agency, as participants can see and evaluate the impact of their efforts and are given direct, personal support to alter their behaviour. A sense of agency from group-based engagement can be deepened by drawing people into participatory problem solving, an approach which has taken off in the health field. Once alternatives, awareness, and a sense of responsibility and agency are in place, then incentives, rewards and penalties are more likely to work.
The impact of what others are doing around us is also very powerful. Interventions to create exemplars of change among figures of influence or colleagues in the workplace, and in the wider community, can help create new social norms that can have a significant impact on individual behaviour.
Another element of effective behaviour change is communication. Communication alone will not change behaviour, but it does play a role in complementing and reinforcing other interventions – especially where it is linked to specific behaviour changes and spells out what people can do, how, why, where and when. The history of commercial marketing points to another important pre-condition – the imperative to know and segment one’s audience, not only along socio-economic lines, but also by psychological motivations.
The challenge for government and others seeking to change behaviour through public engagement is to recognise and embrace this full range of psycho-social approaches. Conventional policies are still important – people still need to be sent the right price signals and given adequate information – but, as parts of government are increasingly recognising, the policy palette must be widened to successfully stimulate climate-friendly behaviour.
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