Which strategies are most effective to change climate beliefs and behaviors?

Climate change continues to loom large, demanding urgent action. While technological advancements are crucial, social transformations that target human behavior are equally important. However, which strategies are most effective to change climate beliefs and behaviors? This is where the field of behavioral science steps in, aiming to understand and influence our choices. 

A recent global megastudy published in Science Advances explored this potential, conducting a massive “intervention tournament” across 63 countries. The research tested 11 crowdsourced interventions designed to influence four key climate-related behaviors: belief in climate change, support for climate change mitigation policy, willingness to share climate mitigation information on social media, and tree-planting efforts. The interventions varied, from penning heartfelt letters to future generations to making climate change feel closer to home.

  • Dynamic social norms
  • Work together norm
  • Effective collective action
  • Psychological distance
  • System justification
  • Future self-continuity
  • Negative emotions
  • Pluralistic ignorance
  • Letter to future generation
  • Building moral foundations
  • Scientific consensus

An international megastudy

Most previous research work across behavioral sciences has been mainly conducted on Western, educated samples from industrialized, rich, and developed countries. Although these nations are disproportionately responsible for causing climate change, effective climate mitigation strategies will require global cooperation. Hence, it is imperative to understand which interventions work across a diversity of cultures. Accordingly, in this megastudy, an international dataset was obtained by conducting the same study by many research laboratories around the world – known as the “many labs” approach. A whopping 59,440 participants from diverse backgrounds engaged in the experiment, providing valuable data on the effectiveness of different approaches.

The 11 interventions had limited success, differing depending on participants’ initial climate beliefs, mostly working on people who were already concerned about climate change. Making the issue feel less distant increased belief in climate change (2.3%) and writing a letter to a future-generation member increased support for policy change (2.6%). Interestingly, negative emotions prompted information sharing on social media (12.1%). None of the interventions succeeded in boosting effortful behavior—several interventions even reduced tree planting. 

Given this fascinating, and sometimes confounding, diversity of results, the researchers created a handy web tool. This allows you to easily assess the effectiveness of different interventions based on demographics (age, gender, etc.) and target behaviors.

Behavior change is possible

Here are some key takeaways from the study:

  • Behavior change is possible: The experiment demonstrated that well-designed interventions can nudge people towards more sustainable choices.
  • Context matters: Tailoring interventions to specific audiences and cultures is crucial for effectiveness.
  • Testing is essential: Not all interventions work, and rigorous testing is needed before widespread adoption.
  • Collaboration is key: The study’s success hinged on the collaboration of researchers from diverse backgrounds and countries. 

While the study offers promising insights, it’s important to remember that behavioral science is not a magic potion. Systemic change and policy interventions remain essential for addressing climate change at scale. However, understanding and influencing individual behaviors can play a crucial role in supporting broader efforts for climate action.

Ichigo Bloom offers climate and biodiversity collaborative workshops such as the Climate Fresk and the Biodiversity Collage, to raise awareness and ignite change within organizations.