What is the best way to win people over to climate protection?

What is the best way to win people over to climate protection?

How do you get people to behave in a climate-friendly way? © izusek/ iStock

In order to effectively combat climate change, the support of every individual is needed. Researchers have now tested the best way to obtain this in 63 countries. Accordingly, it depends heavily on a person’s nationality and basic attitude as to whether climate messages have the desired effect on them or even have the opposite effect. However, one of several universal tendencies is that “doomsday messages” are most likely to encourage sharing of thematically appropriate social media posts.

In order to prevent climate change from progressing further, not only international agreements and government measures to reduce CO2, but also the commitment of every individual is crucial. If as many people as possible make their private lifestyles sustainable – for example, avoid air travel or save water – the effects of climate change can be contained even more effectively. But how can we get as many people as possible to take action – or at least to support effective climate policy?

From the end of the world to peer pressure

Climate messages can be formulated in different ways. For example, there is the “end of the world scenario,” which warns of the possible downfall of humanity if you don’t change your life immediately. Or you are made aware of the specific problems and hardships that have already occurred in your own country due to climate change – in Germany, for example, various heat waves or the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley. It is also conceivable that climate activists will adopt a more positive tone and highlight how many other people are already trying to reduce their own carbon footprint – followed by a call to become one of them yourself.

Researchers led by Madalina Vlasceanu from New York University have now investigated which formulations work best. To do this, they presented various forms of climate messages to around 60,000 test participants from 63 countries and then determined which variants gave the greatest boost to their belief in climate change and their intention to use their own behavior to combat it.

Tailored rather than universal messages needed

The result: Vlasceanu and her team have not found a secret recipe for formulating a perfect climate message that will get as many people as possible on board. However, they were able to show various general tendencies. For example, the researchers found that doomsday scenarios are most likely to lead to sharing posts on social media, even among climate skeptics, while they tend to reduce the willingness to plant new trees. However, how well a message works depends not only on the goal it pursues, but also on the target group it is addressing. In particular, the researchers found that the nationality, social status and basic attitudes of different people shaped their ability to be influenced by climate messages.

“For highly educated conservatives in the United States, for example, the future self-continuity intervention was the best way to increase support for climate policy, increasing support by 18 percent,” the researchers said. Specifically, in this scenario, the test participants were asked to write a letter to their current self from the perspective of their future self, in which they list the climate-friendly behaviors that they would have wished for in retrospect. Another example: When people in Romania learned that 99 percent of all experts believe climate change is a fact, it increased their support for climate policy by nine percent, while in Canada the same rate decreased it by five percent.

Vlasceanu and her colleagues want to ensure that climate activists and state institutions strike the right tone in the future when they want to awaken the urge to act in their target group a special web tool developed with which the effectiveness of climate messages can be checked in advance. If you enter the key data of your target group and the intention of the respective intervention, the forms of communication that are statistically most effective are automatically generated.

Source: University of Vienna; Specialist article: Science Advances, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.adj577

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