The Timaru Herald

Prepare to be nudged, for climate’s sake

- Peter Griffin @petergnz

The Government now has about as good a plan for heading to a carbon zero future by 2050 as it is likely to get. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pledged to commit to the shrinking carbon budgets suggested by the Climate Change Commission last week. But is our team of 5 million willing to go on this journey? We came together to fight Covid-19. But what lies ahead will require decades of sustained work that is resilient to changes in government, economic slumps and shifting values.

The commission acknowledg­ed that massive behaviour change on our part as consumers, farmers and business owners will be required to get to carbon neutrality by 2050. It built in a couple of ‘‘alternativ­e paths’’ to zero that take into account varying degrees of behavioura­l and technologi­cal change.

But the commission is fairly hazy on how to spark that behaviour change. In its final report it did suggest the Government create a ‘‘dedicated fund for behaviour change initiative­s and nominate a lead agency’’. That’s crucial, because the science and psychology of behaviour change will now need to come into play in a very effective way.

How do you get people to give up their gasguzzlin­g cars, install solar panels, take the bus, live in smaller houses and fly less?

The UK government’s Behavioura­l Insights Team, or ‘‘Nudge Unit’’ as it is called, has had considerab­le success experiment­ing with ways of changing citizens’ behaviour. It has worked on projects prompting people to pay their tax on time, turn up in court and sign up as organ donors.

During Covid it had some small victories, given the train wreck that was the UK Government’s response to the pandemic. It was responsibl­e for the idea of singing Happy Birthday to ensure hands are washed for the required 20 seconds.

Behaviour change starts with education. The evidence shows that when people are made aware of the negative impacts of air travel, they are more likely to support policies to reduce it.

In the coming decades we will be nudged and rewarded. We’ll be issued instructio­ns and justificat­ions to change. Campaigns will likely draw on ‘‘cognitive dissonance’’, highlighti­ng the disconnect between our actions and the state of the environmen­t.

It sounds manipulati­ve – and it is. But we are being manipulate­d every day as we drive by billboards and share and like posts on social media.

The advertisin­g and marketing world is adept at getting us to do things that, deep down, we don’t feel we really need or want to do. Those techniques will all need to come into play if we are to get to zero.

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