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Channeling environmentalism into climate policy: An experimental study of Fridays for Future participants from Germany

Soliev, I., Janssen, M.A., Theesfeld, I., Pritchard, C., Pirscher, F., Lee, A. (2021). Channeling environmentalism into climate policy: An experimental study of Fridays for Future participants from Germany. Environmental Research Letters 16: 114035, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac30f7.

Abstract

This study argues that scholars and policy-makers need to understand environmental activists better to bridge the gap between growing activism and policy. Conventional wisdom is that environmental activists generally support stronger climate policies. But there is still little understanding about diversity of views within activist groups when it comes to specific policies, and existing studies indicate that their views are not uniform, which can weaken their impact as a group. Activists might unite to demand change, but not necessarily agree on details of the desired change. Exploring the differences within the group, this paper focuses on how to nudge those who already share favorable attitudes towards policies that mitigate climate change. The motivation has been to see, in presence of general support for stronger environmental policies, whether this support could be channeled into more specific policies. We first take on a methodological challenge to construct an index of environmental predisposition. Then drawing from existing social-behavioral scholarship, we analyze results of an experimental survey with select treatments previously reported as promising. In November and December 2019, we collected responses from 119 participants at the Fridays for Future demonstrations in Germany. The results indicate that there are indeed important differences within the group, and nudging effects exist even in this rather strongly predisposed group, with participants assigned to the experimental group showing higher levels of support for the introduction of a carbon tax that is traditionally seen as a difficult policy to gain widespread public support. We find that those who score neither too high nor too low are more likely to respond to nudging. Yet, the effects vary for general outcomes such as policy support, behavioral intentions, and environmental citizenship. Overall, the findings show the value of understanding the heterogeneity of individual views within environmental movements better and directing interventions in large resource systems such as climate to specific issues and target groups for accelerating transformations towards sustainability.

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