The planet is on fire. Never before has the human race been in more danger, or so ho-hum about doing anything about it. If you’re one of the Frightened screaming about it from the roof tops, a new study says you might want to change your tactics.
Researchers at Georgia State University surveyed almost 2,000 people to find out what messages people best responded to. Some of those people saw messages involving things you could do as an individual about climate change, while others saw a message about policy changes instead.
After viewing these messages, the people being surveyed were asked about their thoughts on climate change. The people who read messages about policy were more likely to believe that humans are responsible for climate change, and also to be supportive of both policy changes and individual action.
The respondents didn’t seem to care much whether these messages came from a scientist or not. What did matter was the type of message. While no one liked messages about self sacrifice for the planet, conservatives responded most negatively.
Why It Matters
If you care about the planet, it’s natural to want to do something about it and also to tell others. It’s also natural to look at other people and judge how they stack up. This judgement of self and others even has a name, “Ecopiety,” coined by author Sarah McFarland Taylor.
The problem with ecopiety is that it is both misleading and potentially harmful. When we recycle our soda cans or bike to work instead of take our car, we may fall into the trap of thinking that these things alone can save the planet without any radical shift in infrastructure.
Unfortunately, even if you were able to completely eliminate your carbon footprint, it wouldn’t make a noticeable dent in current carbon emissions. Big picture, only changes in policy itself will make decarbonizing possible.
Is there any place for personal change at all?
Yet in light of this study, should we even have them? Will we accidentally discourage people from talking about policy change by showing them articles on personal change?
We believe these are great articles–for those who want them and decide to read about it on their own. The difference is that if you click on these articles, you’ve decided for yourself that you want to make changes and are interested in learning how to do that.
Those who aren’t aware of the climate crisis, or who are not interested, probably wouldn’t enjoy our articles being forced on them. It’s the difference between picking up a copy of Good Housekeeping for yourself, and having your in-laws critique your cleaning skills while over for a Holiday dinner.
Yet, if we are to tackle this global crisis, we need everyone onboard with it. That includes people who run oil rigs, dig for coal, plant crops, or simply exist in this world.
The bottom line
When approaching the topic of climate change, discussing policy changes may be the best way to break the ice. After all, nobody likes to be bossed around, guilt tripped, or told what to do.
It’s not just Climate Deniers and the uninformed who can suffer from constant advice to help the planet. Even those who are actively trying to reduce their impact can be hurt by a checklist of things they haven’t fixed yet–especially if that check list comes with a good dose of shame.
Being told you are not an environmentalist if you don’t have solar panels strapped to your roof or because you haven’t radically changed your diet is hurtful. If your efforts are going to be shamed no matter what you do, why try at all?
Deciding whether to make changes in your own life to help the environment is a matter of personal choice. Even if a single action isn’t enough to change the fate of the planet, it matters. We should value everyone for their efforts, no matter what, and not spend our time shaming or devaluing others.
We should also make an effort to bring our focus as environmentalists on what matters most. Making changes to policy that will bring carbon emissions down.