New study outlines how to talk about climate change to increase donations

From the UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – SAN DIEGO and the “follow the money” department, comes this study that shows activist groups how to fleece more money from the public.

Members of the general public who thought about the problem of climate change in collective terms were, relative to control, willing to donate up to 50 percent more. CREDIT Courtesy Nick Obradovich, Climatic Change.

Members of the general public who thought about the problem of climate change in collective terms were, relative to control, willing to donate up to 50 percent more. CREDIT Courtesy Nick Obradovich, Climatic Change.

How to talk about climate change so people will act

What can you do about climate change? The better question might be: What can we? University of California San Diego researchers show in a new study that framing the issue collectively is significantly more effective than emphasis on personal responsibility.

Published in the journal Climatic Change, the study finds that people are willing to donate up to 50 percent more cash to the cause when thinking about the problem in collective terms.

Thinking about climate change from a personal perspective produced little to no change in behavior.

The study’s findings run contrary to popular wisdom. Pick up a leaflet on global warming or Google around, and chances are you’ll find a “you” message urging action on the environment. Personal appeals are everywhere. Advocacy groups use them, as do the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations. A marketing campaign run by the European Union, for example, was explicitly focused on reminding people of their personal responsibility. “You Control Climate Change,” it declared. But is that the best way to go?

“Climate change is arguably the largest collective-action problem the world has ever faced,” said lead author Nick Obradovich, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science in UC San Diego’s Division of Social Sciences. “Yet we’re operating on a lot of baked-in assumptions on how to motivate people.”

When Obradovich realized that there wasn’t a lot of scientific literature examining whether collective or personal frames for climate-change action are more effective, he designed experiments to find out. Working with the National Audubon Society and co-author, fellow political science Ph.D. student Scott Guenther, Obradovich surveyed Audubon members as well as members of the general public.

Participants in the experiments were randomly assigned to one of three scenarios: Some were asked to write a paragraph reflecting on the ways they personally cause climate change. Others reflected on the ways that climate change is collectively caused. Control subjects wrote about daily routines (brushing teeth, say, or drinking coffee). In this last case, no mention of climate change was made.

Subjects had a one in 100 chance of winning $100 for completing the experiment. After writing – either about personal responsibility for climate change, collective responsibility, or their everyday activities – all of the participants were asked, should they win, how much of that $100 they would be willing to donate to Audubon’s climate-change efforts. The instructions made clear they would then win not the full $100 but the difference of their donation.

The collective frame consistently outperformed both the personal frame and the control condition.

Among the 1,215 Audubon members who volunteered to take part in the experiment, the researchers found those writing about collective causes of climate change were, relative to the control group, willing to donate 7 percent more of their potential winnings. Among 304 members of the general public, recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), the donations were 50 percent higher, relative to control.

Importantly, where the collective frame increased how much people were willing to donate, the personal frame hardly moved the needle at all. Put another way, asking people to think about how they themselves contribute to climate change had a similar effect on donations as asking people to think about brushing their teeth or going to work every day.

“This surprised us,” said Obradivch, who in addition to pursuing his doctorate in political science at UC San Diego is also a fellow of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the university’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We had hypothesized that thinking about climate change in any way would incline people to donate more to climate change but that’s not what happened. People only consistently gave more when we encouraged them to think about the collective causes of climate change.”

The researchers ran a follow-up experiment. They re-contacted their original MTurk sample and asked them again how much they’d be willing to give. The effect persisted. People who had initially written about climate change in collective terms were still willing to donate more than the others, even several days later.

Finally, Obradovich and Guenther ran survey experiments with a different group of 451 people, also recruited through MTurk, asking them to assess how they might change their future climate-related behaviors. Again, the collective frame did best – producing the highest aspirations for reducing carbon emissions.

Why this occurs remains an open question, the researchers write. Further research is needed to investigate the psychological reasons more fully.

A limitation of the study, noted by the authors, is that Audubon members and the MTurk population as a whole believe more strongly in the occurrence of climate change and its human causes than the average U.S. citizen. A useful line of future research would be to investigate if framing the problem of climate change collectively is also more effective with people less inclined to support climate action in the first place. “It is important to find out if we can also move people who are not already sold,” Obradovich said. “We hope this paper will open further inquiry in this area.”

Most of the Audubon members were game to give away all their potential winnings. The median donation among MTurkers, on the other hand, was about $10.

“Looked at individually, the magnitude of the effects is small,” Obradovich said. “But in the aggregate, in the context of all donations to climate advocacy, it becomes large. A 7 to 50 percent increase in donations to climate change action would translate into millions of additional dollars each year.”

###

The study is part of Obradovich’s doctoral dissertation at UC San Diego. After graduating, he will begin a joint postdoctoral appointment at the MIT Media Lab and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, grant no.DGE0707423, to Obradovich and by the Skoll Global Threats Fund to Obradovich and Guenther.

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65 thoughts on “New study outlines how to talk about climate change to increase donations

  1. “Published in the journal Climatic Change, the study finds that people are willing to donate up to 50 percent more cash to the cause when thinking about the problem in collective terms.”

    Yes, “the cause”. Where have we heard that phrase before?
    /snark

      • The post’s “We’re operating on a lot of half-baked assumptions on how to motivate people.”

        Motivate people? That’s what the hive is after? Surprise! Surprise! And our betters’ latest, Gruber-tweaked, designed-by-a-dork-scrum, flim-flam “big-idea”?–(trigger warning! trendy, hive-fad, razzle-dazzle, brave-new-agit-prop, buzz-word ahead) “Collective Framing”! OOOHHH!!!

        Really wanna motivate people, hive-bozos? Well, then, do yourselves a favor and visit any battlefield grave-site. Note the row after row of grave-stones, that mark the final resting place of young men “motivated” to give their very life’s blood in this or that particular struggle. And then note the high-incidence of similarly young company grade officers buried among their fallen men.

        Now time to put on your “thinkin’ caps”, Philosopher King wannabes, everywhere–what, if any, is the connection between the “motivation” of the youth, buried in your war-cemetery of choice, cut down in the early prime of their manhood, and their “follow-me!” leaders who shared their fate, would you say? Hint: There’s a right answer and a wrong answer. Double Hint: LEADERSHIP FROM THE FRONT AND BY INSPIRING, SELF-SACRIFICING, PERSONAL EXAMPLE!!!PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH!!!LEAD THE WAY!!!

        In the meantime, hive-tools, keep your bot-brained, every-evolving refinements of the grifter’s art, out of my face, thank you very much.

    • Why this occurs remains an open question, the researchers write. Further research is needed to investigate the psychological reasons more fully.

      How about moralistic finger pointing pisses people off?

      However, more money is needed for me get in contact with 452 people on Amazon to find out if this is the real cause. Please give generously.

      • A ‘fund me’ account has been established on your behalf (individually, not collectively)

    • Obviously while individual thought is more conservative in nature, Collective Thought breeds a stronger Liberal Idiocracy.

  2. More study of the effectiveness and practice of PROPAGANDA

    I’ve said it before, 1984 was a warning not a playbook.

    • European Climate Foundation, Netherlands

      Board includes:

      Caio Koch-Weser, Board of World Resources Institute, Washing, D.C.
      John McCall MacBain, Founder of ECF, Ontario, Canada
      Susan Bell, Board of The National Audubon Society, Joined 2013

      And others.

      https://europeanclimate.org/people/board

    • “You control climate change?” That is the single most ridiculously hubristic statement I’ve ever heard on this subject, and 100% absurd. How so many “smart” people can be so stupid boggles the mind. Puny misguided humans . . .

  3. I’ll confess that when Mark Steyn writes about his travails in DC, I become inclined to buy a gift certificate from steynonline. That’s more about the cause of free speech perhaps, but also looking forward to additional comeuppance.

  4. There was no funding for the North Pole Camera this year.

    Someone has blown a lot of money on useless stuff. At least the camera gave us real pictures of the real situation.

    I would like to have .001% of the money these fellows have had to play around with.

    • “I would like to have .001% of the money these fellows have had to play around with.”
      1) Start a non-profit institute to fight Climate Change
      2) Apply for grants
      3) Solicit donations
      4) Take note of recent social science and psychology research indicating effective fund raising strategies
      5) Use early funds to contribute to the majors like Greenpeace and WWF. Be active in those groups, make an “in” for yourself. Get your hands on their donor lists.

      Deal yourself in for a fat salary. List your wife and kids as consultants.
      Glad I could help and good luck.

      • And, become a nonprofit parasite like the rest of them. Why not? As an old carny once told me: “If the public is stupid enough to fall for that scam why not let ’em”

      • 6) Demand that the Justice Department use RICO to destroy skeptical scientists whose discoveries threaten your business.

    • Question, has anyone verified that there was really “no funding” for the camera? Or is it possible that since the ice isn’t melting there in a panicking way, it wasn’t helping “the cause” in a positive manner?

      • I know it is hard-bitten and cynical of me, but I tend to think that if the ice was melting in a way that helped the “cause”, there would be ten cameras up there. I’ll take it one step further, to reveal how suspicious my nature has become. I’d say that the cameras have too often “corrected” the view derived from satellite data, showing ice in water that was called “ice-free”, and so on. The camera was a liability to the “cause” and not an asset, so why pay for it? (But that is a suspicion, and I have no hard evidence to back it up with.)

        I post the entire kindly and polite email I recieved from Roger Anderson concerning the camera here:

        https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/arctic-sea-ice-sad-news-about-north-pole-camera/

        If you contact Roger please be kindly, polite, and supportive of efforts to regain our North Pole Camera next year.

      • I know it is hard-bitten and cynical of me, but I tend to think that if the ice was melting in a way that helped the “cause”, there would be ten cameras up there.

        Before Photoshop and The CGI stuff The Gore used of glaciers calving, there was a saying that meant something; “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
        If the camera was not “real time” (in other words, “adjustable”), it would be funded and we skeptics would be asking, “What’s keeping it afloat since they projected the ice cap has already melted?”

        Control the sources of information and you can usually manipulate the conclusions most people reach.
        Welcome to “The Information Age”! 8-(

  5. Since I’m a human and lefty blames humans as “the cause” of climate change, I’ll be donating to my self. :-)

  6. A limitation of the study, noted by the authors, is that Audubon members and the MTurk population as a whole believe more strongly in the occurrence of climate change and its human causes than the average U.S. citizen. A useful line of future research would be to investigate if framing the problem of climate change collectively is also more effective with people less inclined to support climate action in the first place. “It is important to find out if we can also move people who are not already sold,” Obradovich said. “We hope this paper will open further inquiry in this area.”

    Bias anyone? So the paper discovered that people who drink the Kool-aid are willing to donate the money to buy more. Have I got that about right? Gee…..this is Earth shattering research….NOT. Here’s a tip dude, go watch an evangelistic tv program and you can find out all you need to know about your “research”–in other words–it’s been done by many long before you came onto the scene and will continue long after you leave it.

    How did this pass the review committee? HOW??!! JMJ is science dead?

    • Among the 1,215 Audubon members who volunteered to take part in the experiment, the researchers found those writing about collective causes of climate change were, relative to the control group, willing to donate 7 percent more of their potential winnings.

      Biases, most certainly.
      Self selected, non-blind study. Active participation in the creation of what is studied.
      “Those WRITING about COLLECTIVE CAUSES…. were willing to donate 7 percent more” of fake potential winnings in a made up game.

      The news to me… ” My gosh! Only SEVEN percent more? ”

      As for “How did this pass the review committee?”
      I am all for publishing such trash. Heaven forbid some peer review editorial board keep the public from knowing the idiocy that comes their way.

      What the peer review and editorial boards must do is see to it that warts of a study are not air-brushed out of the picture.

      • No I meant how did this doctorial candidate get this biased crap past his own review committee? This is essentially a school research paper–if the reviewers of his candidacy didnt catch the inherent bias within the study then what exactly are teaching? The proposal for this study should have come back with copious notations on selectivity and bias.

      • Not to mention the copious evidence that show winnings are dealt with inherently different than earned money. That was one of the few clear results from the Ultimatum/Dictator game heyday of the 80s.

  7. “Importantly, where the collective frame increased how much people were willing to donate, the personal frame hardly moved the needle at all. Put another way, asking people to think about how they themselves contribute to climate change had a similar effect on donations as asking people to think about brushing their teeth or going to work every day.
    “This surprised us,” said Obradivch …..”

    How surprising this surprised the researchers. They don’t seem to know much about how human beings think. Seems pretty obvious to me. As individuals, the donors don’t really see much evidence of climate change and they don’t expect it to affect them much, so appealing to self-serving motives is going to fall flat. Appealing to a more general good makes these folks feel good – that’s a major driver for them. A sense of community, even, that they get from it. And don’t forget, these are members of the Audubon Society, so we can already guess quite a lot about their attitude to this sort of game. They are already a self-selected group. The results from a study addressing the general population would be less marked, but I expect the effect would still be there

    • What’s surprising about being willing to give away other people’s money? It’s the whole basis of the way government gets way with its robbery of the productive ones.

    • mothcatcher wrote: “How surprising this surprised the researchers. They don’t seem to know much about how human beings think. Seems pretty obvious to me. As individuals, the donors don’t really see much evidence of climate change and they don’t expect it to affect them much, so appealing to self-serving motives is going to fall flat. Appealing to a more general good makes these folks feel good – that’s a major driver for them. A sense of community, even, that they get from it.”

      Humans have a natural inclination to want to be a member in good standing of whatever peer group they value. It is comforting to know that lots of people look at things the way you do. It confirms to you that you are on the right track in your thinking process (of course, the majority *can* be wrong sometimes). The collective majority must be smarter than the individual, would be the thought. So appealing to people collectively does have an attraction.

      Although appealing to people collectively doesn’t seem to affect the skepticism of a certain segment of the population. You could still have that human desire to conform but the facts get in the way of conforming, so you don’t go along with the “majority” opinion.

      I don’t think alarmists are going to have much success trying to psychologically manipulate a bunch of skeptics. Skeptics are the wrong audience to try to sell delusions. Just the facts, M’am.

      • “The collective majority must be smarter than the individual”

        Which of course explains why so many intellectual breakthroughs have been the product of committees?

      • “The collective majority must be smarter than the individual, would be the thought.”

        I don’t think it is actually thought involved. If there was thought involved at some point that thinking person would realize that “collective majority” is just a polite euphemism for “mob mentality”, and then that thinking person might think of arena sports games he or she has been to, or perhaps they lived in a city where the mob rioted after their team won a championship. Or, perhaps they think back into history and remember the Salem Witch Trials, or the French Revolution with their Septembrists, and its bloody reign of terror kind of handily illustrates the genius of “collective majorities”.

  8. “show in a new study that framing the issue collectively is significantly more effective than emphasis on personal responsibility.”

    Well, yeah, since so many of the modern generations don’t accept the concept of “personal responsibility” in the first place. When presented to them framed collectively, it becomes “they” who are the cause and “we” can be the saviors.

  9. All you need to say is “Doctoral Candidate in Political Science” to discredit this.

    As for the experimental manipulation I’d like someone to validate “hypotheticals” in social science with “real world action” By all accounts we’re always much more altruistic when we give away imaginary money, we always have higher aspirations when we don’t really need to act. If anyone is interested in how this stuff breaks down look to the work of Sam Abrams, who deconstructs the arguments of people in “public service” who claim to be working with altruistic motives.

  10. I would also be more inclined to donate hypothetical money that is someone else’s for a cause I support than actually writing a check. I’m shocked that these Audubon members didn’t all agree to donate the whole $100.

    • Imaginary money associated with imaginary climate change. Makes sense to me. But then, I got my Doctorate on line from Phoenix University.

  11. Why did this UC San Diego study go to a sympathetic audience to figure out how to frame questions regarding a donation of un-earned money to a cause those people already believe in? Why didn’t they just ask a few of their fellow Californians how happy they are paying $100 per month in higher electric and fuel bills in the name of climate change. It would be interesting to compare the answers of the folks who live in La Jolla (where UCSD is located, downtown San Diego and over the mountains in El Centro, an agricultural town.They might have discovered that poor people don’t like regressive taxation but that rich people were likely happy to do what they can for the cause.

  12. Years of training by increasingly sophisticated advertising techniques have conditioned much of the herd to respond to signaling calls by flashing back a group membership response.
    Click and take action. Invalid responses will get you excommunicated.

  13. I agree that the people who already believe in CAGW already believe it was caused by the collective and therefore they accept the mansion homes and jet set lives of Barack, Al, Leo, Bill and Hill, Suzuki, members of the US Congress and UN elites. Not to mention the survey taker’s own hypocritical oil hating lifestyles.
    They’re doing it for The Cause, so it’s okay.
    It was all about the money.
    There was no room or words in the survey for a skeptic to be converted to a believer no matter how much they tried to make them write about it.

  14. I have a better idea.

    Wait for the observations/evidence to start supporting models………..then make realistic projections based on that………..and share it with people.

    Sometimes, the truth is more important than the cause.

  15. You would have more luck begging anemia sufferers for blood than American taxpayers and wage earners for more money.

  16. “a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science”

    Imagine that? A Poli Sci major studying how best to bulls*** people.

  17. The press release left out a word in this quote:
    “Yet we’re operating on a lot of baked-in assumptions on how to motivate people.”
    .
    . . .half-

    • Oh no Neil, those ASSumptions are completely baked in. Well, well done. Almost Cajun style. Giving off massive amounts of CO2.

      :)

  18. The typical Believer operates under the assumption that they aren’t as responsible for “climate change” as others are because – and they then tick off all the “reasons”; they recycle, or drive a Prius, don’t run the water when they brush their teeth, turn out lights, etc. etc. etc. No matter how humungous their “carbon footprint” actually is, other people who don’t “care” the way they do, are more responsible. So yeah, of course trying to make them feel personally responsible will backfire.

    • And the typical skeptic already recycles, doesn’t waste water, or throw trash on the ground, or destroy their own environment, but also has no proof that even if the majority of people changed their fossil fuel burning lifestyles completely, that it would or could make a noticeable difference in the end anyway, so why bother?

  19. I absolutely LOVE it when social scientists who presume to be experts on how to understand human behavior admit things like:

    “Yet we’re operating on a lot of baked-in assumptions on how to motivate people.”
    AND
    “Why this occurs remains an open question, the researchers write. Further research is needed to investigate the psychological reasons more fully.”
    AND
    “We were surprised.”

    I wonder when these intellectual giants will figure out that maybe ASKING people what motivates them, individually, would save them countless years of study and leave a hellofalot money available for “the cause”. I mean, if either one of those things REALLY matters to them at all….

    • Asking people what motivates them gives you exactly what you want to hear, or what they want you to hear.

      People who volunteer for studies have a strong desire to please whomever is wearing the lab coat, and people in general want anyone they meet to think well of them. If you ask them, you will get a lot of righteous, good citizens who are motivated solely for their desire to help others. They will tell you precisely what they think will make you happiest with them. If you watch them, then you will find something very different indeed.

      In fact, I think this is very much that same thing. These people, when prodded with civil duty then try to impress their interviewer (consciously or unconsciously) by giving away money without consequence to themselves.

      If they had to give away earned money, or if they actively disliked the interviewer, you would see dramatically different results.

      Seriously, this sort of study was widely discounted decades ago due to how easily contaminated it was.

  20. Anthony has a donate button, but I suspect he gets a better response when there is a specific event that we can all get behind and donate towards together.

  21. More garbage from the “money is the solution to everything” crowd. I’d like to see them study the cause and effect relationship between people donating money to climate alarm organizations, and the lowering of average temperatures around the globe. How does one cause the other? It seems to me that if you really believe the hype, it shouldn’t take any money at all to use less fossil fuels. Maybe they just need the money to buy Teslas for all the University staff.

  22. There’s a petition going around to make UCSD a sanctuary campus for illegal aliens.

  23. I would suggest door to door solicitation in Venezuela. It’s warm there, otherwise I would suggest the workers paradise called North Korea.

  24. (Note to Audubon society execs; Don’t mention wind power in any fundraisers to fight Climate Change . . )

  25. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, grant no.DGE0707423,
    I wonder if they would have gotten the grant if they were doing a study to promote the Bill of Rights.
    I think not.

  26. “Thinking about climate change from a personal perspective produced little to no change in behavior.”

    Perhaps because as an individual, they were not experiencing any effects of “climate change”?

  27. For me, the scam was made plain when I saw that every demand made by advocates of AGW seemed to converge on the same end goal: bigger government, less personal liberty, more control, far less prosperity. The related issue is the idea that if only humanity could gain sufficient knowledge and control over the environment, that we could move closer to the long desired secular Utopia. This is the Gnostic vision.

    This is the modern secularized form of a religion that has dogged humanity for many thousands of years.

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