How to Inspire Pro-Environmental Behavior in People
Wed, April 21, 2021

How to Inspire Pro-Environmental Behavior in People

FridaysForFuture, a group that helped coordinate the demonstrations, stated that it was the biggest climate-related mobilization ever / Photo by: fridaysforfuture via Flickr

 

Last September, more than six million people across the world took to the streets to demand urgent action on the escalating climate crisis. FridaysForFuture, a group that helped coordinate the demonstrations, stated that it was the biggest climate-related mobilization ever. The movement showed that people power is more powerful than the people in power. And this is only the beginning as more and more young people join the fight against climate change.

The impact of the climate crisis has worsened in recent years with increasing food and water shortages exacerbating chronic and contagious diseases and killing people. The World Health Organization reported that global warming is responsible for more than seven million deaths a year. Air pollution causes about 600,000 deaths in children under five annually. This summer, heat waves killed 1,435 people in France. Warmer temperatures make it easier to transmit malaria at higher altitudes, killing half a million people every year.

These figures will get worse if the climate crisis will not be mitigated. More people and animals will die if politicians continue ignoring the problem and capitalist companies will not take full responsibility for their crimes against the environment. While governments and corporations should be held responsible for the climate crisis, each of us needs to take action. Yes, our small efforts will not be enough to stop companies from damaging our environment, but if our voices and efforts are combined, we can encourage a mass movement that can save our planet.

This means we have to genuinely care for our environment. Unfortunately, not all of us have the same mindset. People tend to forget to protect our planet in several occasions, especially in using things or doing something that is harmful to the environment. Aside from mitigating the impacts of the climate crisis, another challenge we need to are facing is inspiring pro-environmental behavior in others. 

Framing the Discourse

Pro-environmental behavior is defined as individual behaviors contributing to environmental sustainability, which includes avoiding waste, limiting energy consumption, recycling, and environmental activism. But for people to be motivated in doing these things, they need to be educated first. However, that may not be enough especially if people hold on to conservative beliefs and attitudes. 

A 2016 study conducted by researchers from Oregon State University revealed that pro-environmental ideals are supported by the conservatives when the issues are reframed in terms more closely aligned with their values. This study aimed to better understand the widespread political polarization occurring around environmental issues, particularly the climate crisis. 

Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, reported that the researchers conducted a series of experiments to test how shifts in moral framing affected attitudes toward environmental issues. They re-angled questions about conservation and climate change, adding several ideals such as patriotism, loyalty, authority, and purity. The findings showed that reframing the issues around these moral foundations led to shifts in attitudes for conservatives. Christopher Wolsko, the study's lead author, stated that the issues should be more inclusive of those diverse values to change people’s attitudes. 

Pro-environmental behavior is defined as individual behaviors contributing to environmental sustainability, which includes avoiding waste, limiting energy consumption, recycling, and environmental activism / Photo by: Greenpeace Africa via Flickr

 

The study also revealed that conservatives and liberals respond differently to issues. For instance, conservatives respond more favorably to issues that are framed by loyalty, authority, and respect, while liberals respond more favorably to moral issues involving harm and care or fairness and justice. 

A recent study by the Consumer and Environmental Sciences of the University of Illinois College of Agriculture suggested people on opposite ends of the political spectrum can be spurred to take action as long as they relate to their cultural values. According to another article by Science Daily, the participants were found to more egalitarian than hierarchical (seeing people as equal instead of one group being better than another) and more individualistic than communitarian (valuing the self above the communal good). 

In engaging people in environmental discourse, their values should be highly considered because they are hard to change. Values are built throughout lifetimes and the best thing to do is to find ways on how they can relate to environmental issues that will impact those values. 

"For example, if you're telling someone who has a hierarchical worldview that environmental policy will benefit all people equally, your message might not register. But if you talk about the same policy in terms of what will be achieved and the freedoms won by all people, then all of a sudden this group will hear you and might be more open to further discussions,” study author Carena Van Riper said. 

Hitting Close to Home

A new paper published in Global Environmental Change suggested that politicians and policymakers should change their approach in educating people about the climate crisis. Instead of emphasizing it as “global, distant, and abstract societal risk,” it should highlight the local, present, and concrete aspects of climate change as a personal risk, for instance, associating the threats and impacts of climate change to issues of personal health, national security, and the well-being of future generations. According to Pacific Standard, an online site that publishes stories that matter, stories that, by virtue of their ideas and craft, are capable of creating a better and more just society—educating climate change is about finding the right keys to different locks.

Inspiring pro-environmental behavior is all about finding diverse ways to communicate environmental issues and threats to people. People would show more care and support if they see that they will be affected by the crisis. 

A new paper published in Global Environmental Change suggested that politicians and policymakers should change their approach in educating people about the climate crisis / Photo by: Trocaire via Wikimedia Commons