Examining predictors of public action in response to climate change
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Project Summary

Our ability to alleviate some of the worst consequences of anthropogenic climate change hinges upon wide-scale behavior change at all levels of society. Researchers contend that an effective way to mitigate climate change lies at the intersection of two levels (i.e., individual behavior change and government regulation) and therefore citizens must publicly demand carbon regulation (Ockwell, Whitmarsh & O’Neill, 2009).

It would be logical to assume that the citizens who are most concerned about climate change are taking public action in an attempt to alleviate it (e.g., voting, donating time and money, protesting, signing petitions, and contacting government officials), but many of them are not engaging in these behaviors, and the reasoning behind their inaction in unclear (Maibach, Roser-Renouf & Leiserowitz, 2009). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) human behavior is the least understood component of the climate system. Our proposed research aims to improve the understanding of human behavior in response to climate change.

To further add to the complexities of human behavior, Americans do not respond to the issue of climate change in a uniform way. Recent segmentation studies of the American public (i.e., the Global Warming’s “Six Americas” studies) identified, through nationally representative surveys and latent class analysis, six distinct groups that differ in their climate change beliefs, issue involvement, behaviors, and societal response preferences (Maibach et al., 2009; Maibach, Leiserowitz, Roser-Renouf & Mertz, 2011). These six segments in order of decreasing concern and motivation to take mitigation action are: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive.
The individuals in the Alarmed segment are convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change and seek solutions to climate change through consumerism and household energy conservation measures. However, despite their desire for a stronger national response to climate change and their belief that citizens and government should do much more to address the problem, only about a quarter of the Alarmed segment has contacted elected officials to urge them to take action to reduce climate change (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf & Smith, 2011; Maibach et al., 2009). Although the Alarmed understand the need for public action many are not engaging in it. One goal of our research is to increase the understanding of Alarmed citizens’ behavior – particularly to elucidate the social-psychological factors that influence or inhibit this segment’s decisions to engage in public actions to mitigate climate change.

Although myriad factors affect public action, our study uses Stern’s (2000) Value-Belief-Norm theory (VBN) to examine the discrepancy between beliefs and behavior, and to determine what influences the Alarmed’s decisions to engage – or not- in public action to mitigate climate change. Although VBN theory is well accepted, the complete theory has rarely been tested (c.f., Kaiser et al., 2005; Nordlund & Garvill, 2002) and has not been used to predict public action to mitigate climate change. We will test the complete theory, refine a key variable in the theory, and will test the addition of two social and collective variables (i.e., descriptive social norms and collective efficacy) to the VBN theory. We expect these integrations and adjustments will increase the ability of the VBN model to predict and explain public action in response to the collective dilemma of climate change. Thus, another goal of our study is to test the complete VBN model in its current form and contribute to the model by examining whether and how descriptive social norms and two forms of efficacy influence behavior.

Our aim is to produce results that will help inform education and communication strategies that assist people, individually and collectively, in making more informed decisions about their climate-related behavior.

Read more about the theoretical background of this project.

There is no background information available for this project at this time.


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