New research has found that if we believe we can personally help stop climate change with individual actions, such as turning the thermostat down, then we are more likely to make a difference.
According to Dr. Jesse Preston, a researcher at the University of Warwick in the UK, people are often stricken with climate change helplessness; the belief that climate change is so massive and terrifying that it is out of our personal control, and that our actions are too small to help.
This feeling of helplessness, however, makes people less likely to bother with individual eco-friendly actions and actually leads to higher energy consumption, she noted.
In one study, researchers tested a group of more than 200 people, giving different members of the group varying messages about climate change.
Some were given a High Efficacy Climate Change message that personal actions do make a difference in the fight against climate change, while others were given a Helpless Climate Change message that personal actions make no difference. The remaining members — the control group — were given no message at all.
Over the next week, the group reported whether they adopted behaviors to help stop climate change, such as driving less, hanging laundry on the line instead of using the dryer, using less water, or turning the heat down.
The people who received the High Efficacy Climate Change message reported 16.5 percent more of these behaviors than those who read a Helpless Climate Change message and 13 percent more than the control group, which received no message.
The researchers discovered that people who were told their actions couldn’t make a difference to climate change actually reported higher energy usage than before, showing how destructive a feeling of helplessness can be.
The researchers also found that a belief that personal behavior makes a difference enhanced the moralization of our actions — the notion that they are “good” or “bad” — and an awareness that the energy we consume could either prevent or cause damage to human life.
Public messages about climate change that focus on how we can help make a difference as individuals will be far more effective in encouraging people to consume less energy, according to the researchers.
“Often climate change messages try to persuade the public by increasing belief that climate change is real, or through fear of its dire consequences,” Preston said. “But mere belief in climate change is not enough, and fear can backfire if we feel helpless and overwhelmed.
“It is vitally important that individuals appreciate the impact and value of their own actions for us to make a meaningful change as a whole,” she concluded.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
Source: University of Warwick