In recent weeks, a number of environmentally minded political pundits have stated that voting for enlightened politicians is the sole way to change direction and policy towards a more sustainable society, particularly when it comes to climate action. In a Slate article, two social psychology researchers review the science and show that norm changes — like reducing one’s carbon footprint by flying less or eating less meat — can actually start with the actions of individuals who publicly express their values which encourages collective action, such as voting.
As the authors explain, they advocate for personal actions:
“…because people taking action in their personal lives is actually one of the best ways to get to a society that implements the policy-level change that is truly needed. Research on social behavior suggests lifestyle change can build momentum for systemic change. Humans are social animals, and we use social cues to recognize emergencies. People don’t spring into action just because they see smoke; they spring into action because they see others rushing in with water. The same principle applies to personal actions on climate change.”
The argument is that a person’s behavioral shifts to reduce her carbon footprint can signal the importance of the issue to her networks and start to alter norms. This is done when behavioral shifts by an individual encourages social group uptake, which can lead to voting and other actions on issues like climate change that then broaden the discussion of what is politically possible. This goes for water conservation, environmental protection or any other public policy or action.
At bottom, the best method to get politicians and businesses to address climate change may start at home and then getting the neighbors to participate.