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Smoking, Marriage and Climate: What Can I Do? (2)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 5:03 PM GMT on April 03, 2013

Smoking, Marriage and Climate: What Can I Do? (2)

This week I have a guest blogger, Doug Glancy, who was one of the student advocates responsible for starting my class on climate change problem solving. Doug’s piece continues the series in response to the question, “What can I do about climate change?” It is a call for social organization.

What Smoking and Marriage Equality Can Teach Activists About Efforts to Catalyze Climate Action

In February, Duke University released a poll that found that more than 84% of Americans believe climate change is occurring. Climate activists were elated, and many began to say that we’ve turned the corner on efforts to catalyze action. However, beneath the encouraging headline was a far more important number: only one third of Americans support federal efforts to address the issue. I am not discounting the fact that the vast majority of Americans now believe climate change is occurring. However, overselling this statistic is fraught with peril, as it is the second number that defines our direction when the rubber hits the road.

For affirmation of this belief, one need only look at the decades-long struggle to reduce smoking. As early as the 1950’s, the majority of doctors believed smoking posed significant health risks. By the 1970’s, the majority of Americans believed that smoking had deleterious effects. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the late 80’s that overall smoking rates began to plummet. The transition did not occur because a doctor or scientist said smoking was bad for one’s health, it occurred because smoking became socially unacceptable.

Unfortunately, in the battle to address climate change we do not have the luxury of time for opinion to sway. Fortunately, the strategic marriage of behavioral economics and technology provides the tools to speed up the pendulum. What is needed now is messaging which leverages cutting edge research into why we make the choices we do including core drivers such as moral conviction, a desire for equality and good old-fashioned peer pressure. (For a quick introduction read Contagious by Jonah Berger).

One need only look to the events of last week to see how opinions can change in a timeframe exponentially quicker than in the past. As recently as the late 90’s, the vast majority of American opposed extending marriage rights to the LBGT community. Just over a decade later, over half the nation supports marriage rights.

There is little doubt that some of the explanation for this remarkable achievement lies with Americans expanding their view of morality and furthering equality. However, it would be shortsighted to discount the tremendous impact of peer pressure. Last week, despite little coordinated effort, nearly 3 million Americans changed their Facebook profile to support marriage equality. These 3 million individual decisions provided a social cue to tens of millions more.

What does this all mean for the efforts to address climate change? It means that we must move beyond statistics about the beliefs of 99% scientists. It means we must move beyond over-reliance on frames, such as the plight of the polar bear, which only speak to certain segments of society. It means we must make addressing climate the moral imperative of the day and use technology-assisted peer pressure to spread the message. We have the knowledge and technology to be good ancestors, its time to leverage it.

Doug Glancy
Principal Resileris

Doug has over a decade working on climate, energy and sustainability issues across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. He holds a BS in Political Science from Trinity College and MBA/MS from the University of Michigan, where he focused on climate change and corporate sustainability. In addition to speaking engagements, Doug has contributed to a groundbreaking report on Corporate Climate Change Strategies for the Pew Center on Climate Change, and led two delegations to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. He is an Executive Board member of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

The piece also fits well with my earlier pieces

The Optimist’s Time,

The Role of Short Timers

A Bridge of Time.

Links to the Series

Setting Up the Discussion Deciding to do something, definition of mitigation and adaptation, and a cost-benefit anchored framework for thinking about mitigation

Smoking, Marriage and Climate Behavioral changes and peer pressure

Organizing and Growing Individual Efforts A little detail on efficiency and thinking about how individuals can have more impact than just that of a single person

The Complete List Eight categories of things we can do to reduce greenhouse gases

We Are What We Eat Food and agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions

Climate Change Politics Climate Change

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.