Negatieve boodschap vergroot skepsis

Ben ik toch niet de enige met een hekel aan de ‘help de wereld vergaat, koop een spaarlamp’ mentaliteit van veel milieucommunicatie. Onderstaand onderzoek is nogmaals een bevestiging van het belang van positieve communicatieboodschappen:

Dire messages about the impact of global warming may increase scepticism because they contradict a commonly held belief that the world is a just and orderly place. This is the conclusion of new psychological research which investigated the reaction of individuals to messages about global warming.

Despite the increasing amount of scientific evidence for global warming, there appears to be an increasing number of people who consider global warming to be non-existent or unrelated to human activities. Public appeals to increase pro-environmental behaviour often emphasise the severity of potential impacts of climate change. Ironically, it could be that these appeals are increasing scepticism in global warming.

The study investigated the role of ‘just world beliefs’, which are beliefs that the world is a fair and orderly place where rewards and punishments are delivered to those that deserve them accordingly. Information on the devastating impacts of climate change can threaten these ‘just world beliefs’, as they suggest a chaotic future in which innocent children will suffer. In order to hold onto their beliefs, individuals may deny or discount the evidence of global warming, resulting in increased scepticism and ultimately a decreased willingness to change their behaviour.

Using a sample of undergraduate students in the USA, the study indicated that the greater the belief in a just world, the more likely participants would become sceptical about climate change after reading a newspaper article that detailed the devastating consequences of global warming. However, if they read an article that communicated some positive messages in terms of finding solutions to carbon emissions, then the level of belief in a just world had no effect on scepticism.

The researchers further investigated the link between just world beliefs and scepticism about global warming. They experimentally manipulated the level of belief in a just world by exposing participants to just world beliefs in a language comprehension test. They discovered that those who had been exposed to just world statements demonstrated higher levels of scepticism after watching a 60 second video with a dire message about global warming, compared with those who had been primed to believe in an unjust world. Those exposed to just world beliefs were also less willing to change their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint.

The research indicates that dire messages about global warming which aim to encourage pro-environmental behaviour could in fact backfire and produce more scepticism and less positive behavioural change. This could be because the message challenges deeply held beliefs about the fairness of the world. However, if messages are delivered in a positive frame that refers to potential solutions then beliefs in a just world are not confronted so strongly and we remain open to global warming and our ability to contribute towards mitigation.

The study only involved Americans and researchers suggest that Americans may hold stronger just world beliefs than other nationalities. More research in this area is needed with other populations and to investigate more specifically which part of just world beliefs, e.g. fairness or predictability, conflict with negative global warming messages.

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Source: Feinberg, M. & Willer, R. (2010) Apocalypse Soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just-world beliefs. Psychological Science. Doi: 10.1177/0956797610391911.

Kun je het effect van milieucommunicatie op gedragsverandering versterken?

Dat is een vraag die me al een tijd intrigeert sinds ik stukken gelezen heb over Robert Cialdini. Zijn bewering is namelijk dat je tot 30% meer effect kunt hebben als je anders communiceert. Cialdini laat vooral zien wat het effect is van groepsdruk.

Een paar weken terug las ik in de Nieuwsbrief Science for Environment Policy Download article (PDF) een stuk over het effect van positieve communicatie op gedragsverandering. Volgens dat onderzoek heeft een positief geframed verhaal (met kansen en oplossingen) meer effect op verandering dan een negatief geframed verhaal (‘CO2 emissies zijn schadelijk voor het klimaat’). Het onderzoek laat ook interessante verschillen zien op basis van leeftijd, geslacht en opleidingsniveau. Zo had communicatie (positief en negatief) geen¬† invloed op het gedrag van deelnemers in de leeftijdcategorie 35 tot 55.

Van mezelf weet ik dat ik me groen en geel erger aan negatief geframede milieuboodschappen: ‘de wereld gaat ten onder, koop een spaarlamp’. Maar ik vraag me af hoe dat bij jou zit?

De wisselwerking tussen klimaatbeleid en luchtkwaliteitsbeleid

Vanmorgen vond ik in de mailbox het nieuwste themanummer van de Science for Environment Policy nieuwsbrief. De nieuwsbrief is dit keer geheel gewijd aan de wisselwerking tussen klimaatemissies en luchtverontreinigende emissies. Interessante onderzoeken, maar een waarschuwing vooraf: lezen van onderstaande stuk uit de nieuwsbrief maakt het er niet makkelijker op. Klimaatbeleid en luchtkwaliteitsbeleid kunnen elkaar namelijk versterken, maar ook tegenwerken…

Continued reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are essential, as they pose serious threats to both people’s health and the environment across the world. Air quality and climate policies can provide mutual benefits: climate change mitigation actions can help reduce air pollution, and clean air measures can help reduce GHG emissions leading to reductions in global warming. There can also be trade-offs, if reducing a particular pollutant emission leads to additional atmospheric warming rather than cooling.

Furthermore, air pollution and climate change influence each other through complex interactions in the atmosphere. Increasing levels of GHGs alter the energy balance between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface which, in turn, can lead to temperature changes that change the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Direct emissions of air pollutants (e.g. black carbon), or those formed from emissions such as sulfate and ozone, can also influence this energy balance. Thus, climate change and air pollution management have consequences for each other.

Given that emissions are linked to air quality and climate change, this thematic issue presents recent research that investigates the trade-offs and co-benefits that may be gained from reducing both long-lived GHGs, responsible for climate change, and air pollutants, responsible for adverse impacts on human health, ecosystems and the climate.

Although reducing particulate matter (PM) has clear health benefits, understanding the impact of this reduction on climate change is essential if mutual benefits for climate and health are to be delivered. The overall impacts of reductions are complex because PM is made up of many different chemical components with different physical properies, some of which lead to warming of temperatures (e.g. black carbon) by absorbing heat from the sun, whilst others (e.g. sulfates) bring about cooling effects by reflecting sunlight.

Several studies suggest that, in addition to health benefits, reducing black carbon sources would lead to cooling of global temperatures (see: ‘Reducing black carbon emissions benefits both climate and health’ download article (PDF)). On the other hand, other studies point out that reducing air pollution could worsen climate change in the short-term by contributing to an increase in global temperatures (see: ‘Do climate policies need a ‘pollution safety margin’?’ download article (PDF)). This is still an area of active research with many uncertainties to resolve.

Poor air quality is also caused by emissions of nitrogen oxides, methane and other volatile organic compounds that combine in the lower atmosphere to produce ozone. Ground-level ozone is a serious pollutant, which at high levels, damages human health and vegetation, including crop yields. In addition, ozone is a short-lived GHG contributing to climate change.

Changing environmental conditions, including rising temperatures caused by climate change, are expected to increase concentrations of ground-level ozone. Policies and management strategies to reduce ozone levels must be designed in light of evidence that there is a ‘climate penalty’ since increased temperatures make it more difficult to reach targets for ozone (and PM) in summertime. In particular, policies must incorporate evidence of how climate change is likely to affect different regions of Europe, if they are to be effective. The article, ‘How climate change could affect European ozone pollution’ download article (PDF), reports on research which suggests that climate change will lead to higher ozone levels across southern Europe this century.

The health costs of ozone pollution are likely to worsen under climate change. The impacts of climate change on air quality, ozone levels and ill-health are presented in ‘Climate impacts on air pollution could increase respiratory disease’ download article (PDF).

A reduction in pollutant emissions that produce ozone would not only improve public health but would also provide climate benefits. Integrating climate change and air quality policies would be the most effective approach.

One article, ‘Integrated climate change and air pollution strategies: a winning combination’ download article (PDF), compares the costs and benefits of implementing reductions in local air pollution and climate change actions separately or in combination. The message, again, is that simultaneous achievements in welfare and climate change are possible when decision-makers integrate both sets of policies.

Designing policies to combat future climate change is complicated by the many uncertainties associated with predicting the complex interactions governing long-term changes in climate and air pollutants. A recent study, detailed in ‘Unravelling the complex chemistry of the atmosphere’ download article (PDF), has reviewed progress in understanding the interactions between atmospheric chemical composition and climate. Continued and improved networks of measurements that provide long-term data are essential to gain a more robust understanding about past and present changes in concentrations of air pollutants and GHGs.

Such networks include surface, aircraft and satellite monitoring. Aircraft experiments combined with analysis using numerical models have proved to be particularly useful in advancing our knowledge about key chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere. There is also a clear need for improved emission inventories that track changing sources of air pollutants and GHGs over a wide range of locations and from year to year.

Ongoing research can provide opportunities for decision makers to choose policies that not only reduce GHGs but improve air quality and meet health goals.

Meer onderzoeken en artikelen vind je op de Science for Environment Policy website.