In amongst our usual coverage of green business news, we came across a really interesting post from Grist about why Americans aren’t buying climate change any more. The Grist post details a drop in the percentage of Americans that believed global warming was happening from 71% to 57%.
The Grist post stands out on its own but we saw similar results from the UK where the Guardian newspaper reported drops in the numbers willing to pay higher prices for the sake of the environment and an increase in skepticism, with 37% saying claims about environmental threats were exaggerated.
We can guess at the causes of these drops and climategate is almost certainly part of the whole problem. Once the science got murky and the claim and counter claim started, there seems to have been a chink in the certainty that the public need to be motivated by this problem. The presentation of the climate science is really down to the climate scientists, so that’s a problem they’ll have to solve.
Both articles, though, raise other issues which are important for the marketing environment facing green business today. The UK study found the “poorest sections of society” least willing to pay higher prices for the sake of the environment. This is not surprising given the financial crises but it is important. Durban gives us no evidence that governments are going to act, so green business and environmental activists alike had better get round to finding ways to motivate change.
The story from Grist points out that global warming is hard for us to understand. Its causes are invisible and its effects are hard to determine. Statistics are not good motivators, so an average rise in temperature is not a motivating influence for most people. Local effects of global warming are hard to determine. Some put every rain storm and every hot or cold winter down to climate change and others react to such sillyness with increased skepticism.
We are most motivated by those events which affect us most closely and climate change is not doing that. Fear is a great motivator and is the psychological mechanism that drives us to extricate ourselves from danger. Statistics do not cause fear and this is where the two stories meet up. Grist quotes risk analysis work conducted by Anthony Leiserowitz which found that people were most concerned about global impacts of climate change like damage to the environment. They thought local impacts were unlikely and only 13% were most concerned about those. Even people who are concerned about global warming aren’t really conscious that it will impact them directly. It is far away.
As Grist put it:
In other words, he found that most people think “It’s the polar bear’s problem, not mine — and as long as it’s not my problem, I frankly have more pressing things to worry about.”
This ties in with the UK findings. Once you’ve got more direct problems, climate change becomes far away.
The challenge of motivating change, then, becomes the challenge of bringing the awareness of the problem closer to the public. For climate change campaigners, that means stop showing us images of Polar bears floating on tiny patches of ice. I care about that but I’m trying to feed my kids and my job’s at risk so I care more about other things.
For green business, it means the argument for state subsidies or for consumer dollars has to be about more than just saving the planet. It has to explain the local impact. Yes I’ll feel good if I buy your product and it saves the planet but how much more do you want me to pay for that? How much more would I pay if the effect was local? How much more would I buy if the price was closer? What if you could demonstrate how I’ll save money with your product?