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Climate News - March 2023

Climate Corner: From the Center for Behavior and Climate

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by Caroly Shumway, Ph.D. and Rebecca Edgecumbe M.A., BCBA

Achieving Community Climate Action with Behavior Change

We are excited to announce the three 2022 grant recipients of our global Behavior Change for Climate Action Challenge: the Biosphere Institute of Bow Valley, FreeportCAN, and Legacy Reef Foundation. Our three awardees are working to generate community climate action through innovative ways. Here is a brief introduction to each of the groups and their projects, with the behavioral strategies that they are using noted in bold.

Creating Climate Champions

The Biosphere Institute of Bow Valley (BIBV), a Canadian nonprofit, has a mission to empower community leadership to address environmental challenges. For the past 25 years, BIBV has worked to convene and connect the community of Canmore (a population of 15,000 withover 4 million tourists a year visiting the adjacent Banff  National Park) through their programs. Previous climate change initiatives include the Shift – Climate Transitions program which used social modeling and community interventions to encourage low carbon transportation, energy efficient buildings, renewable energy, and waste.

Recently, BIBV surveyed the Bow Valley community and learned that the majority of the population believes in and is concerned about climate change. Residents understand the science behind climate change and climate impacts, and engage in frequent conversations about climate change. However, the community lacked an understanding of the effectiveness and impact of different climate actions. The survey's results echoes research indicating that information alone is not sufficient for people to take action on climate change. This is where behavior change tools can make a difference – motivating people to act by engaging in pro-climate behavior.

BIBV’s new project “Climate Champions” will be an online course to educate community members about the most effective climate change actions and how to have productive conversations with others (family, friends, colleagues, and peers) about climate change. Community leaders or block leaders have been found to be effective at motivating community groups to take action on climate.  The goals of the BIBV Climate Champions program include:

  •        creating a sustaining community of practice of climate action leaders;
  •        educating participants about how to navigate climate anxiety and negative emotions – which can be barriers to taking action;
  •        demonstrate momentum and inspire people using local impacts and solutions;
  •        focus on weaving in concepts of indigenous perspectives, equity, and systems change; and
  •        embedding behavior change principles such as prompts, goal setting and commitments to encourage a high rate of course completion.

The project will focus on those community members who want to take action on climate but are unsure what to do. Community members will learn how to elicit behavior change at both an individual and community level, while also understanding which climate actions are most effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Once the participants take the course, they will be encouraged to become climate ambassadors as Climate Champions. Similar to block leaders, these champions will in turn influence others through conversations to engage in high-impact climate actions themselves, creating a ripple effect throughout the town.


Shifting Eating Habits

Freeport Climate Action Now (FreeportCAN) is a young grassroots organization based in Freeport, Maine, a coastal community of 8700 residents and thousands of summer tourists. The group's mission is to reduce the community's carbon footprint through local action, education, advocacy, and resources. In 2022, FreeportCAN created and operated a local Farmers’ Market to support local farmers and encourage the community to “eat local.” FreeportCAN also hosted a one-day Electrify Freeport festival to encourage residents to reduce fossil fuel use and electrify their homes. Highlights included talks from credible community members as well as opportunities for residents to try out electric cars, bikes and lawn mowers.

Freeport CAN's new project “Eat Plants” is focused on encouraging residents of Freeport to eat more plant-based meals to reduce carbon emissions. This simple and affordable change in one's habits can make a significant difference. Just by not eating meat one day a week, you can reduce your own carbon emissions from 0.4 to nearly 1 ton a year. (Compare different foods with this food calculator from the BBC.)

FreeportCAN has identified several barriers to widespread inclusion of plant-based meals in their community: 1) Lack of response efficacy: Though many residents agree that climate change is a problem, they do not take action because they feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis and similarly do not discuss the issue with friends. 2) Social pressures: Community culture values beef as the signal of a “good and successful” host. The local food market features a large, centrally located meat case full of beef and chicken with friendly butchers ready to recommend the best cuts and specials. Plant-based meals are regarded as difficult to make, unhealthy, and unappealing.

FreeportCAN's goal is to convince at least 25% of the community to eat meatless meals one day a week. They aim to achieve this by reframing perceptions of eating a plant-based diet, providing information about the carbon impact of eating a more plant-based diet, and making the change easy and fun by providing simple recipes, weekly pot-lucks and cooking classes. They will partner with local markets to consider how plant-based foods can be featured, promoted, and prominently displayed. These approaches exemplify the range of behavior change tools, including social norms, pledges, prompts, increasing efficacy, and nudges that can be used to increase plant-based eating and further FreeportCAN’s other climate goals.


Creating Peer-to-Peer Support for Climate Actions

The Hawaiian-based Legacy Reef Foundation works to create healthy coral reefs throughout the world, ensuring a sustainable food source for future generations. The nonprofit's goal is to increase the number of sustainability supporters towards the tipping point: the point where political pressure and policy change can occur. Through their land-based coral growing facility, the Legacy Reef reached more than 1,000 visitors in their first year. These visitors learned first-hand that their actions make a difference for coral health, creating hope and appreciation of the power of individual action. During regular get-togethers at the lab, volunteers, family, and friends learned about coral reefs, their importance, the multiple threats to reefs, and how to help.

Legacy Reef Foundation seeks to accelerate coral restoration by decreasing the stressors impairing corals' ability to adapt to climate change. The multiple stressors include ocean acidification and warming due to climate change, wastewater runoff, pollution, and over-fishing. To reduce coral stressors requires changes in behavior by the general public as well as change in policy by local and regional governments. Legacy Reef Foundation believes that the general public needs to understand why coral is important and how decreased coral coverage impacts individuals, families and local economies. The public also needs to feel that there are viable solutions and that each person, individually and collectively, can have a meaningful impact on the problem.

The Legacy Reef’s current project aims to educate and motivate the public by delivering information in short bites through its Coral Experience program. The program will be delivered through museum kiosks, lectures, and the Legacy Reef Foundation website. Existing material will be broken down into brief 3-5 minute chapters with information about reefs, climate, coral stressors, and actions that people can take. The organization's focus is on those who are concerned about climate change but lack a sense of efficacy that they can make a difference.

Participants will be invited to “join the Wave Team Club,” to encourage peer-to-peer engagement with others about climate actions that can be taken. Participants will be rewarded and recognized to feel good about engaging in specific pro-environmental and pro-social behavior, such as taking action to reduce one’s carbon footprint or changing to reef-safe sunscreen, bringing 5 additional members to the group, and implementing sustainability challenges. Group activities will foster a sense of inclusion. The overarching goal of the Club is to have participants share ideas, information, and results of their efforts with each other, thereby creating social norms favoring pro-climate behavior and developing a community built around sustainability and coral reef conservation.


The Center for Behavior and Climate is proud to have these three groups as our grassroots awardees. As part of the grant, we provide behavior change training and technical assistance to help each group successfully achieve their climate goals. Funding for the challenge was provided by the Agape Foundation. The Environment Council of Rhode Island's Education Fund was our fiscal sponsor.


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