“Israel will reduce carbon in the economy by 2050,” the headlines promised during the media festival surrounding the Glasgow COP26 summit.
The climate crisis, one of the most important problems facing humanity today, consistently receives low media coverage. This time, even the promises of a greener and better future have failed to create hope given the gloomy forecasts for the planet and the list of climate problems demanding immediate attention.
Little wonder, then, that the public is relatively apathetic to the climate crisis, and it does not yet constitute a major consideration in elections (Israel Democracy Institute survey, 2020).
This is particularly significant since the crisis is mostly influenced by the actions and decisions of governments, or rather by their incapability to take actions and decisions and to encourage appropriate personal environmental behavior.
Given this, how can we promote knowledge, awareness and environmental behavior that emphasize the immediate personal responsibility and impact of each one of us in response to the crisis? Will these in turn contribute to exerting pressure on governments to take the necessary environmental actions? And if so, what messages should be used to encourage this behavior?
One message that has been found to be effective in encouraging behavioral environmental change stresses the economic aspect. An example is explaining that people can cut their electricity costs by switching to renewable household energy. Similarly, the use of pro-environmental transportation can be encouraged by means of messages highlighting the personal and immediate contribution this makes both to health and to the environment. The adoption of such personal environmental naturally requires appropriate national infrastructure and environmental planning.
These messages are also based on one of the best-known principles in economics, according to which people tend to make cost-benefit calculations in the short run over the long run.
For example, the long-distance transportation of meat has a clear impact on the environment and on the climate crisis. To encourage people to reduce meat consumption, we can illustrate its immediate impact on our health and on the climate, while presenting scientific evidence to counter skepticism, alongside an emphasis on the suffering caused to animals.
A study examining the impact of messages explaining that excessive consumption of red meat is harmful to health found that it reduced the intention to consume red meat among people with upper to medium eating self-efficacy.
Another important issue is how to encourage recycling. The tendency not to recycle may be influenced by the belief that our personal actions do not make a difference. Therefore, creating a personal “sense of worth” in terms of our direct contribution to the environment is essential in messages that encourage recycling.
A study in the field found that messages that emphasize the change that the product undergoes – that is, turning recycled materials into new products – created more inspiration and ability to imagine the new product, and thereby increased recycling behavior. Here, too, appropriate infrastructure and urban planning are required.
In conclusion, the climate crisis is largely affected by the actions of governments and corporations, and more often by their failure to take action and plan appropriate national infrastructures. Along with the gloomy predictions about the future of the planet, targeted messages should be used to encourage the public to adopt personal environmental behavior, which may contribute to applying pressure on the government.
The writer is a lecturer and strategic adviser in persuasion and messaging design at Reichman University.