What is a good way to get someone to care about the climate? Easy, you pay them in some way to care. In an important test of carrot versus stick, a series of studies out of Penn State found that people would not only be more willing to do their part to combat climate change if they were given an incentive, but that it wouldn’t really matter what political party they were a member of either.
Researchers for the university found that Americans would be willing to abide by policies emphasizing alternative energy sources which touted incentives – such as tax breaks or rebates — rather than those which forced penalties against those not compliant with eco-friendly guidelines. They also found that participants would rather prefer the policies to be targeted toward businesses than themselves.
Findings uncovered that reasons for policy support ended up going beyond whether or not the participants believed the policy effectively protected the environment. They also revealed that the economy and its effect on society played a large role. This suggests people consider impacts on all “three pillars of sustainability” — people, planet, and the economy.
“Policies can’t mitigate climate change unless they’re put into action, so it’s important to consider public reactions to these policies if they’re going to be ultimately successful,” said Janet Swim, professor of psychology at Penn State. “Policymakers may choose to pursue policies that are more likely to be accepted by the public, but because many policies are needed, it’s also important to know sources of concern for less popular policies.”
Three studies as part of the research, which involved 444 individuals: one which focused on who the policies should target, individuals or businesses; another on what type of change was needed (transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources or reducing energy use); and a third compared motivating policy support by using incentives versus disincentives.
Eight hypothetical climate change policies were given to them. After studying each, the participants rated them on how likely they would be to support it and whether the policies would help or harm the environment, economy, and society.
One surprising finding that came to the researchers is that whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, neither really cared if they got something out of it…sort of. Democrats still tended to support the policies over their conservative peers.
“It may be useful to focus less on political divides when it comes to climate change and more on how policies affect the things people care about, such as the environment, economy and social impacts, to help bridge partisan conflict,” Swim said. “By engaging more thoroughly with the public, policymakers may be able to uncover specific concerns regarding policies. This could improve communication and even result in changes to policies to alleviate concerns and help raise support.”
The study was published in the Environmental Science and Policy and the Journal of Environmental Psychology.