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People change when they see people changing – the mobilization of social norms directing the next wave of climate action

“Humans are attracted to one solution or one action [to solve climate change]. You can’t change systems without individual behavior change, and systems change enables and accelerates individual change. They’re two sides of the same coin.”
There’s a false narrative once again bubbling up within the climate change community that encouraging individuals to pursue their own climate action somehow diminishes their support for large-scale change, despite research pointing to the opposite.
With more Americans than ever believing we should take more personal action on climate change, why stifle the momentum? Instead, we should see it as an opportunity to spark collective action
During the UN climate conference COP27, Rare participated in the COP27 Climate Hub, an on-site and digital broadcast hosted by We Don’t Have Time from Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt. Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare, joined the broadcast live from Sharm El-Sheikh to talk about why personal climate action is a critical piece of the climate solution puzzle.
Rare is a global conservation organization that has worked in over 60 developing nations for nearly 50 years, specializing in applying behavioral science to local problems in order to drive change. One of the largest challenges or queries of the climate crisis is who needs to change, groups or individuals?
Rare’s specialized work around the planet and, holistic approach has proved that this is not a question of one or the other, but rather a harmonious combination of the two.
Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare joined the COP27 Climate Hub on November 16th to talk about the behavioral changes we can make on a societal level to expedite collective climate action.

When asked about what incentives could be given to individuals to maximize their climate ownership, Brett shared that it’s all about “thinking in innovative ways of how to create the social norms, the social expectations, and the social sense that [climate friendly practices] are not just ethical, or practical, they’re also cool. People change when they see people changing.”
Rare has also launched the Climate Culture Index, an innovative research project led by Erik Tulin and Rakhim Rakhimov, two behavioral scientists at Rare. The Climate Culture Index will measure what individual Americans are thinking about various high-impact climate actions and what they are DOING about them.
Brett shared that applying this index requires a mixture of both consumer anticipation and transformation of social norms, to allow them to understand the state of the adoption of climate friendly behavior.
While at this point, the Climate Culture Index only has one cross-sectional snap shot of the American population, the biggest insight thus far is that while Americans believe key climate behaviors are important, they don’t realize how many others believe the same. They call this the “normative bubble” and it represents a major problem if people base their decision to adopt climate action based on whether they see change happening around them.
This data essentially tells the story of, “Everyone expects us to do it, but we don’t know it. We all tend to follow particular patterns,” but when it comes to climate action, “we just don’t know that these patterns are imminently amongst us.”

Rare predicts tipping points “for the good,” as host Catarina Rolfsdottir-Jansson called them, where a natural social shift will expedite the demand, expectation, and positive social pressures for individuals to have ready access to climate friendly options in their lives.

Rewatch the COP27 Climate Hub anytime on We Don’t Have Time Play.

  • Timothy Ndegwa

    23 w

    Amazing piece! behavior change is the epicenter for any systematic change to take place. Behavior change should the focus in influencing people to embrace eco-friendly lifestyle.

    • Patrick Kiash

      23 w

      Great points....thinking in innovative ways of how to create the social norms, the social expectations, and the social sense that [climate friendly practices] are not just ethical, or practical, they’re also cool. People change when they see people changing.

      • Leah Elizabeth

        23 w

        It's the individual who needs to change especially when they are equipped with knowledge....UpTo now...SDG 4 is the first tool in behavioral change.

        • Tabitha Kimani

          23 w

          It becomes a simple task for people to take actions once they are convinced "why".

          • Sarah Chabane

            23 w

            As a social scientist, I really loved this discussion at COP27, you can't change the world without changing people, looking forward to learning more about Rare's work and what's the next step for the Climate Culture Index

            • Ford Brodeur

              23 w

              Great article and an excellent research project by Rare! We must pop this 'normative bubble' and begin mobilizing climate action through social norms!

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