Better ways to inspire action on climate change

New research into what motivates people to take action on climate change shows that promoting the benefits of doing something to address the problem is an effective communication tool.

Dr Taciano Milfont
Dr Taciano Milfont

A comprehensive investigation that involved 28 researchers from around the world was published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Climate Change. Their research examined which factors are most likely to result in people taking action.

The international project was coordinated by three psychology academics, led by Dr Paul Bain from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, and co-ordinated by Dr Taciano Milfont from Victoria University of Wellington and Professor Yoshihisa Kashima from the University of Melbourne.

Dr Bain says the traditional approach to convince people to care about climate change by emphasising its devastating consequences has so far failed. “Governments and individuals have not yet taken widespread meaningful action, so we wanted to find alternative ways to encourage people to make a difference.”

The three researchers identified countries with high or low emission levels, and invited collaborators from each of those countries to take part.

More than 6000 people across the 24 participating countries were surveyed about their climate change beliefs and pro-environmental actions, and also whether climate change actions would result in co-benefits such as reduced pollution, increased economic development or a more caring and ethical community.

The team found that co-benefits were a powerful motivator for people, even for those unconcerned or unconvinced about climate change.

According to the findings, if people believe that addressing climate change will result in a more caring and moral community, they are more likely to act. This was true of people surveyed in all participating countries.

People were also more motivated to act on climate change if they thought it would produce economic and scientific development, although this was more likely to be true in the case of richer countries taking part in the survey.

Victoria’s Dr Taciano Milfont, from the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research and School of Psychology, says the research has the potential to make a real difference. “The findings have implications not only for communicating climate change initiatives, but also for designing climate change policies. It provides guidance for creating policies that not only address climate change, but which also produce the social benefits that people want.”

The team believes the results will be valuable for the upcoming UN climate change summit in Paris.