Article

How to increase motivation and inspire action toward a healthy planet

Motivation from within inspires us to take action (credit: Sunny studio on Shutterstock)
Motivation from within inspires us to take action (credit: Sunny studio on Shutterstock)

In a time in which we face three planetary crises – climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss – it is crucial to take action toward a healthier planet. This is crucial because our planet is providing us with everything we need to live; without these resources and beneficial circumstances, we soon won’t be able to enjoy our planet as much as we do today. And maybe not even be able to survive.
As environmental issues are becoming more pressing over time, we have to take action today. But have you ever felt excited when someone told you that you had to do something? Probably not. Instead, have you ever felt excited to do something after you decided yourself that you wanted to do something? Probably yes!
When thinking back, you may feel the difference in motivation between when you had to do something and when you wanted to do something. Do you also notice the difference in wording? The distinction between “having to” do something and “wanting to” do something seems small but the consequences differ hugely. The differences are huge because when we “have to” do something, the source of motivation lies outside of us. For example, a government, a parent, or a teacher tells us what to do. This is also called extrinsic motivation. But when we “want to” do something, then the source of inspiration lies inside of us and we are often a lot more motivated. This is also called intrinsic motivation.
The difference in wording between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is small but the consequences differ hugely (credit: picture adapted from WindNight on Shutterstock)
The difference in wording between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is small but the consequences differ hugely (credit: picture adapted from WindNight on Shutterstock)


When we “want to” do something and are intrinsically motivated, we are way more likely to take action toward a healthy planet. And we are more likely to keep our efforts up for a lot longer. So, an important question is: when people are unmotivated to take action or are extrinsically motivated because they feel they “have to”, how can we nevertheless inspire them to take action? This is how we can increase motivation and inspire action toward a healthy planet: Why

The first step to increase motivation and inspire others to take action is explaining “why”. Explaining why it is important to care well for our planet is helpful because extrinsically motivated people often don't understand exactly what's going on and why it is important to change their behavior, decisions, etc. This means explaining why, allows them to become intrinsically motivated – allowing them to “want to” change. As people have different backgrounds, are convinced by different arguments, and are inspired by different reasoning, one explanation of the Why may not convince everyone. But when people understand the Why because it suits their background and their circumstances, they're more likely to take action.



Explaining why change is critical will make us more likely to take action (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Explaining why change is critical will make us more likely to take action (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)

One way to explain why taking action is important is by telling stories. Another way is by doing science communication. By sharing scientific research results in easy-to-understand language and a concise, educative, and engaging way, we can explain the far-reaching and broad range of consequences of today’s environmental issues. These methods ensure that information not only stays in our heads but arrives in our hearts, contributing to intrinsic motivation. (Further reading: “A Guide to a Healthier Planet: Scientific Insights and Actionable Steps to Help Resolve Climate, Pollution and Biodiversity Issues”) For example, when thinking about climate change and CO2 emissions, many only think about rising sea levels and warmer temperatures. They may think “Why should I care? My area won’t flood / I love higher temperatures.” By sharing how CO2 emissions impact our planet and what other consequences these emissions can cause – for instance – fewer drinking water and food, they are more likely to see the far-reaching consequences of rising sea levels and higher temperatures. Also, the far-reaching consequences become clear when explaining that as a result – for instance – the export of goods can come to a halt as well. This causes other resources to be limited too, raising prices and even worse, possibly leading to war. War has in turn a very detrimental effect on the environment as it causes more CO2 emissions, environmental pollution, and biodiversity loss (further reading: “How War Triggers Environmental Issues and Vice Versa“). As a result, resources become even scarcer. This vicious cycle not only affects today’s generation but also generations to come, meaning that not just you and me but also your children and grandchildren will be affected by our current decisions and behavior.



Explaining the far-reaching and wide-range of consequences of CO2 emissions can help to raise understanding of why reducing these emissions is important (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Explaining the far-reaching and wide-range of consequences of CO2 emissions can help to raise understanding of why reducing these emissions is important (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)


How

The second step to increase motivation and inspire others to take action is explaining “how”. Explaining how we can take action is important because even when we understand the far-reaching and wide range of consequences, we realize that change is critical, and want to take action, we may not know how we can contribute to the solution. That is why it is also important to share and explain possible solutions. Here, solutions that are suitable to the receiver’s background, circumstances, goals, etc. are most likely to be accepted.



Explaining how we can contribute to the solution will make us more likely to take action (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Explaining how we can contribute to the solution will make us more likely to take action (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)

For example, one solution to reduce CO2 emissions is using renewable energy as opposed to energy created from fossil fuels. Sources of renewable energy are wind and sunlight. Sunlight can not only be turned into electricity or heat, it can also be used to create kerosene. Science communication can be used to explain how kerosene can be created from solar energy, water, and CO2. (Further reading: “How to Make Environmentally Friendly Kerosene Using Solar Energy, Water, and CO2”)



Explaining how kerosene can be created using solar energy, water, and CO2 increases our awareness of how we can use renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Explaining how kerosene can be created using solar energy, water, and CO2 increases our awareness of how we can use renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)


What

The third step to increase motivation and inspire others to take action is explaining “what”. Explaining what we can do is important because even when we know solutions and why they are helpful, we may still not know what actionable steps we can put into practice in our daily lives. At home, at work, etc. These actions are essential as talking about environmental issues is important and yet, only actions in the physical world create change.



Explaining what actionable steps we can put into practice makes us more likely to take action (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Explaining what actionable steps we can put into practice makes us more likely to take action (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)

For example, when someone is convinced that kerosene created from solar energy and CO2 is a great, environmentally friendly solution, the next step is explaining what they can do to put this solution into practice. When someone is working in the aviation industry, actionable steps can for example involve ensuring that conventional kerosene is replaced by renewable kerosene. Or an investor can for example decide to invest in a project to upscale the technology so that more kerosene can be produced. Or when we fly – even though it is even better to refrain from flying – we can choose an airline that uses renewable kerosene.



Explaining what we can do in daily life to support the use of renewable instead of fossil fuel-based kerosene makes us more likely to put this solution into practice and reduce CO2 emissions (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)
Explaining what we can do in daily life to support the use of renewable instead of fossil fuel-based kerosene makes us more likely to put this solution into practice and reduce CO2 emissions (credit: Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten)


Summary and how we can take action

When inspiring others to take action toward a healthier planet, it is important to turn extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation, so that they no longer feel they “have to” and instead “want to” take action. This is possible by explaining why taking action is critical, for example through stories and science communication.
When people want to take action, they may not know yet how they can do so. That is why explaining solutions and how they can take action is very important too, allowing them to feel ready to take action. Once someone is ready to take action, knowing what actionable steps contribute to the solution is essential, so that they can put these into practice in daily life by taking action.
To make it easier for you to take action too, here are ideas of what you and I can do in daily life to inspire others to take action:
  • Gifting someone the book “A Guide to a Healthier Planet” as it shows the wide range and far-reaching consequences of today’s environmental crises. Click here to learn more about the book and find a bookshop to order a copy.
  • Sharing this article with others who are struggling to inspire others to take action
  • Educating yourself about the Why when you find yourself unmotivated to take action in a certain area
Increasing motivation and inspiring others to take action involves enabling others to “want to” take action by explaining the Why, explaining How so that they are ready to take action, and sharing what actionable steps they can put into practice (cre
Increasing motivation and inspiring others to take action involves enabling others to “want to” take action by explaining the Why, explaining How so that they are ready to take action, and sharing what actionable steps they can put into practice (cre


About the author

This article is based on Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten’s presentation «From "have to" to "want to": intrinsic motivation in the energy transition» at the UNECE Group of Experts on Energy Efficiency, Task Force on Energy Efficiency in Industry, Bi-monthly open discussion forum “Creating perception and inspiring sustainable energy action” Dr. Erlijn van Genuchten is a an internationally recognized environmental sustainability expert. She is a science communicator, helpings scientists in the fields of nature and sustainability increase the outreach of their results and allowing us all to put scientific insights into practice and contribute to a sustainable future. Erlijn has inspired thousands of people around the world  — for example — by supporting the United Nations with her expertise, her book “A Guide to A Healthier Planet” published by Springer Nature, her YouTube channel Xplore Nature, and her posts on social media.
  • Tristan Dowell

    7 w

    Thank you for sharing. This is so important and reminds us all we are custodians of this planet and the need to protect it for future generations. 🌏

    1
    • George Kariuki

      8 w

      This is quite informative and educative. Much appreciated.

      2
      • winnie nguru

        8 w

        Wow this is so informative.. We can do better

        2
        • Sarah Chabane

          8 w

          Super insightful, let's transform apathy into action 💪

          2
          • Munene Mugambi

            8 w

            I think if we all could pick a subject and run with it for some time as we make changes in that subject we'd make a huge difference. For example, we'd make a big change in biodiversity for s month when we decide to concentrate our efforts

            1
            • Patrick Kiash

              8 w

              Thank you for sharing this powerful article with us. Its full of inspiration, educative, and truly reminding us its our high time to act now and take action

              3
              • Munene Mugambi

                8 w

                @patrick_kiash Indeed, we require such vocal voices to always push us a step further in this fight

                1
              • Chris Ndungu

                9 w

                When the planet benefit, we will still benefit. Lets turn up to make this a clean planet.

                2
                • Munene Mugambi

                  8 w

                  @chris_ndungu we all benefit when we beat climate change. Our lives get better, we're well fed and can lead better lifestyles

                  1
                • Rashid Kamau

                  9 w

                  The planet demands action from all of us, we need to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

                  7
                  • Munene Mugambi

                    8 w

                    @rashid_kamau The planet gives life and it is time we breath life back into it through cutting these emission numbers and the pollution facing it

                    1
                  • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

                    9 w

                    it's only by taking deliberate action that we will be able to reverse the already-made destruction of our mother planet. We must be ready to do so by all means.

                    8
                    Welcome, let's solve the climate crisis together
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