A Letter to the Past

Professors Lusina Grigoryan, of York University, and Madalina Vlasceanu, of New York University, recently led a study on what works and what doesn’t in order to alter behaviors affecting climate change. The study included 60,000 participants in 63 countries, and 11 strategies, including gloom and doom, stressing the scientific consensus, and writing a letter from the future.

The large team was “quite surprised” to discover that 86% of the participants believe climate change to be a “serious issue,” that needs to be addressed, with 70% supporting “systemic/collective action,” something you might not think from reading the headlines.

That aside, the regional results were as skewed as you might guess. For example, stressing the 99% consensus among climate experts lifted support for climate-friendly policies by 9% in Romania, but lowered it by 5% in Canada.

A gloom and doom bombardment produced a 12% increase, the largest change, in the share of social-media enthusiasts willing to post pro-environmental messages, which seems to go with the territory, and may be part of the problem: Do those posts really do much?

Overall, the most effective strategy was devised by Grigoryan, lifting support for green policies by 9% overall, with a range of 10% in the US and in Brazil to very modest declines in the UAE, Serbia and India. Grigoryan asked participants to imagine their future selves writing a letter to a child close to them today, outlining what they would have done differently.