Why the messenger matters in climate action

Written by
Molly Seltzer, Office of Communications
Oct. 23, 2019

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has rocked the global stage as an advocate for climate action since she began skipping school to strike outside of the Swedish Parliament. Thunberg made a statement by traveling to New York for the UN’s Climate Action Summit in a racing boat equipped with solar panels and hydro-powered generators, a zero-carbon trip, instead of by plane.

In a Q&A, Princeton University behavioral psychologist Elke Weber discussed why such gestures carry weight. Weber’s research focuses on “climate messengers” and the importance of showcasing personal efforts to reduce carbon footprints in cultivating support for climate policies.

“Public figures cannot expect the public to sacrifice convenience or comfort if they, themselves, do not ‘walk the walk’,” said Weber.

Her prior work indicated that communicators’ carbon footprints massively affect their credibility and the likelihood that their audience would adapt behaviors to conserve energy. Subsequent research showed that the carbon footprints of those communicating the science not only affects their credibility, but also affects audience support for the public policies for which the communicators advocated.

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