Even though the majority of Americans today have acknowledged the reality of climate change and say that they are concerned about its dire consequences, many have decided not to take action. Studies in behavioral science have demonstrated that there are a wide range of psychological barriers that are currently preventing people from taking action. As a college student without a lot of influence or disposable income, there are a few strategies I could use to inspire action from other people who already believe in climate change but have not yet done anything to shrink their own carbon footprints.
One thing I could do to address the psychological barriers that contribute to climate apathy is to launch a social media effort that combats stereotypes about environmentalists. This would address two of the psychological barriers to action: pluralistic ignorance and stereotypes about environmentalists. Pluralistic ignorance is the incorrect notion that other people do not view climate change as a problem. Instead, many people assume that the only true climate change activists are radical vegetarians who hug trees and only care about nature. I could combat this perception by creating a Twitter account that is specifically dedicated to retweeting famous people who tweet about climate change but do not fit into the mold of the stereotypical environmental activist.
There are many well-known celebrities who do not conform to cultural stereotypes about environmentalists, but who still support efforts to combat climate change. For instance, when a major climate change protest was held in Washington, DC in April 2017, some of the celebrities who expressed their support on Twitter included Leonardo DiCaprio, Lee Pace, Jane Fonda, Kerry Washington, Barry Sloane, and Jared Leto (Evans). By retweeting these celebrities from a single Twitter account, I could make people more aware of the diverse group of individuals who are speaking out about the problem. In turn, this could help my Twitter followers overcome the psychological barrier that climate change activists have to fall into a certain mold.
As a college student, another action that I could take to combat the problem of pluralistic ignorance is to start a GoFundMe page for a climate change-related issue in my community and share it with my friends and family on Facebook. I would choose an issue that is easy for lots of people to get behind, regardless of their political party, and ask for small contributions of five dollars or less. On a GoFundMe page, it is possible for other people to see how much money a cause has made and how many people have donated. This can help combat the problem of pluralistic influence because people will see on the GoFundMe page that others are donating to the cause, indicating that they truly care about the issue. This could help people realize that climate change is not a fringe issue that only a few radical liberals want to combat.
Finally, as a college student, I could meet with the administration at the university to encourage them to increase the number and visibility of energy saving options on campus. Right now, there are a few recycling bins in public areas, but when a student finishes a bottle of water or a can of soda, they may not always notice the recycling bin. Working with the administration, I would like to increase the number of recycling bins in areas where students commonly spend time. I would also like to add small signs next to light switches reminding people to turn off the light when they leave a room. With these small reminders, more people will remember to engage in efforts to fight climate change. This will help overcome the psychological barrier of pluralistic influence because people will constantly observe others who are taking steps to combat climate change. As a result, they will realize that other people truly care about climate change, and they will embrace the same energy-saving opportunities.
- Evans, Greg. “Climate March: Leo DiCaprio, Jane Fonda, Jared Leto Among Hollywood Voices.” Deadline, 29 April 2017, http://deadline.com/2017/04/climate-march-leo-dicaprio-jane-fonda-jared-leto-1202079661/.