IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU—at least when it comes to global
warming. But you would never guess that based on messaging
from advocacy groups. For example, a marketing campaign by
the European Union centered around a personal appeal, “You
Control Climate Change.” But do these statements work?
A recent study led by political scientist Nick Obradovich, M.A. ' 13,
Ph.D. '16, found that framing the issue collectively is a significantly
more effective motivator than emphasis on personal responsibility.
“Climate change is arguably the largest collective-action problem
the world has ever faced,” says Obradovich, “yet we’re operating
on a lot of baked-in assumptions on how to motivate people.”
Along with political science Ph.D. student Scott Guenther, M.A. ' 12,
Obradovich surveyed members of the National Audubon Society,
one of the oldest nonprofit environmental organizations, as well
as members of the general public. One group of study participants
was asked to write about ways they personally cause climate
change, while others reflected on how it is collectively caused. A
control group wrote about daily routines, like brushing teeth or
drinking coffee, with no mention of climate change. Participants
were then asked how much of a $100 award they would be willing
to donate to The Audubon Society’s climate change efforts.
The collective frame consistently outperformed both the personal
frame and the control condition. Among Audubon members, those
writing about collective causes were willing to donate 7 percent
more. And among the general public, potential donations were
a striking 50 percent higher for those thinking collectively.
Interestingly, where the collective frame dramatically
increased potential donations, the personal frame had virtually
no effect at all. “We had hypothesized that any thinking
about climate change would incline people to donate more,
but that’s not what happened,” says Obradovich. “People
only consistently gave more when we encouraged them to
think about the collective causes of climate change.”
And the effect persisted. In a follow-up experiment, Obradovich
and Guenther found that people who had initially written
about climate change in collective terms were still willing
to donate more than the others, even several days later.
The collective frame also did best at producing the highest
aspirations to reduce carbon emissions in the future.
The study’s authors note that participants were generally
predisposed to believe in human causes of climate change, and
more research should determine whether collective framing
remains effective for those less supportive of climate action
in the first place. “It is important to find out if we can also
move people who are not already sold,” says Obradovich. “We
hope this paper will open further inquiry in this area.”
PROTECTING THE PLANET
BY INGA KIDERRA
“People only consistently gave more when we
encouraged them to think about the collective
causes of climate change.”
— NICK OBRADOVICH, M.A. ' 13, PH.D. '16
THE RIGHT WORDS TO
When it comes to climate change,
it’s not you. It’s us.