Researchers at the
See this fascinating report in the New York Times about Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s pioneering work applying behavioral psychology to climate change.
One of the things that interests us at Jewish Climate Initiative is the huge gap between knowing and doing in the climate change business. We all know what we’d have to do to drastically reduce our carbon footprints: fly much less, use public transport more, switch to CFL lightbulbs, buy a hybrid car, etc. etc.
But very few of us are doing it.
The good news however is that we do have a strong inclination to do the right thing for the common good if we are given the right nudges and cues.
Next time around, they added the following simple refinement to the electricity bills: a smiley face for people whose use was below the mean, and a frowning face for those above the average.
Amazingly, this caused people below the average to keep their consumption low, or reduce it still further.
The studies show that a communal norm together with positive reinforcement towards reaching that norm can have powerful impacts on behaviour, (although do I feel a bit queasy about the authors’ plan for introducing flashing lapel pins that indicate your carbon use.)
This should give pause to anyone who thinks that appealing to people’s pockets is the only way to reduce carbon footprints.
The chapter ends with a long discussion about the power of social norms to influence behaviour for good or ill, (Bava Kamma 92a-93a.) But it also stresses the pivotal power of determined and inspired individuals to reorient social norms by their example.