If climate advocates have a low carbon footprint, people are more likely to support their policies.
When it comes to climate action, scientists understand the importance of getting the message through fast. A new open-access paper in Nature Climate Change provides another answer on how to move forward: researchers’ individual carbon footprints should be in line with their proposed policies.
To explore the link between public support for certain climate policies and the carbon footprints of its advocates, the researchers chose six decarbonization policies and two types of researcher profiles: high and low carbon footprint.
This turned into 12 unique combinations, each tested with 300 participants who were asked how much they supported a particular policy given preliminary information about people who promoted it. They were also asked to rate each researcher’s credibility as well as a few additional questions, such as the perception of climate change to avoid bias.
The conclusion was unanimous: if an advocate had a low carbon footprint, people were much more likely to support that candidate’s policies. Moreover, even if a climate advocate’s carbon footprint was large, visible attempts to reduce it did a great favor to their credibility.
This connection is nothing new in social science. What’s new, however, is the scope of impacts. People’s willingness to save energy can vary between 30% and 90% depending on how much their trust the messenger. The study also revealed a direct link for the support of carbon tax if people who promoted could be seen to be trustworthy in their own lifestyle habits.
The same tendency to trust those who practice what they preach applies to fossil fuel and oil companies that seek to gain wider public support by sharing their environmental commitments and sustainability policies. Burning fossils are rarely seen as a good move these days, but you can easily turn from a foe into a hero by showing that you are trying to do better.
The study also brings attention to the issue that large personal carbon footprints are often the outcomes of people like scientists trying to spread their message as widely as possible. By attending conferences and other public platforms, they might keep traveling to the other side of the planet and leaving a carbon footprint far beyond that of the global average.