Doom and gloom doesn't motivate action on environmental problems, but is there hope for behavior change? David Biello reports
November 28, 2010
When it comes to persuasion, doom and gloom doesn't work. If that wasn't clear from the morass that is international climate change negotiations starting this week or the constant reports of extinction of plant and animal species worldwide, new research [pdf] from the University of California, Berkeley shows it's so.
The researchers canvassed 97 Berkeley students, and found that the 25 young men and 72 young women largely believed in a so-called "just world." That means they think the world is generally just, orderly and stable—despite appearances to the contrary.
Those students who then read warnings of the apocalyptic potential of climate change were more likely to be skeptical of man-made global warming than those who read an article focusing on potential solutions. Dire warnings actually spurred climate contrarianism.
Of course, apocalypse isn't the only way climate change gets presented. But understanding how to motivate actual behavior change is as important—if not more important—than breakthroughs in energy technology. It's shifting away from gadget lust, car envy and the disposable society that might actually reverse some of the gloomiest environmental trends.
And the key will not be making bad decisions scary. It’s making good decisions easy.