Celebrities have the ability to bring attention to issues they find important – from helping starving children to ensuring you feel pressure to buy things you don’t need. In recent history celebrities have changed the discourse on important issues, but when it comes to the climate crisis they come across as powerless. That’s OK, because the people actually making a difference are on the ground and helping their friends make changes.
The most powerful climate “influencers” of today are not celebrities who have achieved fame and then used their platform to deliver some wan cliché about “being nice to the planet.” They’re ordinary people — mostly young women — who are alarmed about the climate crisis and demand world leaders pay more attention to it. In environmental circles, their activism has made them celebrities, not the other way around.
“I think that people my age are just kind of done listening to people who are on red carpets all the time, and then post one picture of a turtle on the side,” said Jamie Margolin, the 17-year-old co-founder of youth climate group Zero Hour. “They’re getting sick of fakeness, and with the urgency of the climate crisis, it’s not enough to have it as your side thing. People are more drawn to influencers whose whole thing is tackling the climate crisis.”
People will use less energy if told that their neighbours are more efficient energy consumers. That’s just one way to get people past their psychological barriers to acting more environmentally friendly according to new research out of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. New Scientist has the story.
This month, an American Psychological Association (APA) task force released a report highlighting these and other psychological barriers standing in the way of action. But don’t despair. The report also points to strategies that could be used to convince us to play our part. Sourced from psychological experiments, we review tricks that could be deployed by companies or organisations to encourage climate-friendly behaviour. Also, on page 40 of this issue, psychologist Mark van Vugt of the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands describes the elements of human nature that push us to act altruistically.
The affluent young, for instance, tend to be diet conscious, and this could be used to steer them away from foods like cheeseburgers – one of the most climate-unfriendly meals around because of the energy it takes to raise cattle. So when trying to convince them to forgo that carbon-intensive beef pattie, better to stress health benefits than harp on about the global climate.
Though conservative pundits have been known to attack such efforts, characterising them as psychological manipulation or “mind control”, experiments indicate that people are willing to be persuaded. “From participants in our experiments, we’ve never heard a negative backlash,” says Wesley Schultz of California State University in San Marcos. In fact, according to John Petersen of Oberlin College, Ohio, we are used to far worse. “Compared to the barrage of advertising, it seems milder than anything I experience in my daily life,” he says.