Collective responsibility amplifies mitigation behaviors

Abstract

How can individuals be convinced to act on climate change? It is widely assumed that emphasizing personal responsibility for climate change is effective at increasing pro-climate behavior whereas collectively framing the causes of climate change diffuses responsibility and dampens the incentive for individual action. We observe the opposite result. Here we find, across three experiments, that emphasizing collective responsibility for the causes of climate change increases pro-climate monetary donations by approximately 7 % in environmental group members and by 50 % in the general public. Further, highlighting collective responsibility amplifies intent to reduce future carbon emissions. In contrast, focusing on personal responsibility for climate change does not significantly alter donations to climate change advocacy or the intent for future pro-climate behavior. These effects replicate and persist multiple days after treatment.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the NSF (grant #DGE0707423 to N.O.), and by the Skoll Global Threats Fund (to N.O. and S.M.G.). We thank G. Kreitler, L. Pomper, and the National Audubon Society for their assistance with recruitment and thank J. Burney, J. Fowler, E. Keenan, S. Kerosky, R. Migliorini, D. Victor, members of the UCSD Human Nature Group, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Author contributions

N.O. designed the experiment, analyzed the data, produced figures and tables, and drafted the manuscript and supplementary information. S.M.G. edited the manuscript and supplementary information. Both authors developed the research question.

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Correspondence to Nick Obradovich.

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Obradovich, N., Guenther, S.M. Collective responsibility amplifies mitigation behaviors. Climatic Change 137, 307–319 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1670-9

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Keywords

  • Climate change responsibility
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Climate change mitigation