Earth Day 2021 Teach-In: Kaitlin Raimi

April 22, 2021 0:05:48
Kaltura Video

Hear from a diverse range of Ford School professors on how their fields of policy intersect with the environment.


Hi and happy Earth Day.

I am happy to record
this message.

My name is Kaitlin Raimi.

I'm an assistant professor
here at the Ford School.

I'm a social
psychologist who studies

how people think and act when

it comes to climate change and

related policies
and technologies.

In my research, I usually
focus on laypeople

rather than experts or
policymakers themselves.

But the same
psychological processes

apply to environmental

policymakers, and others who

might be leading
environmental movements,

as well as to the rest of us.

So I have a number of areas.

of research part of what I

study what's called
pro-environmental spillover.

So this is this
question of if you

get people to take on one

pro-environmental behavior,
does that make them more or

less likely to take on
additional behaviors?

So policymakers,
environmental advocates,

NGOs often assume that,

that this is going to go

in one direction or
or the other.

And they often make assumptions

going in opposite directions.

So for example, sometimes

people assume that
people will start small.

And then once they do
one good behavior,

Let's say you do

an intervention getting
people to recycle more.

Well then they'll feel like they

are a pro-environmental
person and they're going

to take on more and
more and get more

and more involved
in this movement.

Kind of in this
virtuous escalator idea.

Other times, people
really fret that if you

get people to do
voluntary behaviors,

that's going to prevent them from

supporting the big stuff
like a carbon tax.

So they'll do their
one small thing and

feel like they're off
the hook and don't feel

like they need to
do anything more.

And so it's really
dangerous to focus on

these individual voluntary
things because that is

necessarily going to
crowd out support for

the big stuff.

We have these assumptions
going in opposite directions.

The evidence is really
mixed. It's messy.

The effects that are there in

either direction
are pretty small.

And a lot of the
time what we find is

no spillover effects at all.

So getting people to
do what behavior has

no impact on their
secondary behavior.

So I've done a number

of studies kind of empirically
testing this idea,

but also trying to see what is

the overall literature say.

And I think this is an area
that is worth studying.

If you're doing an intervention,
it's good to focus

on the unintended consequences.

But I think there's a lot
more anxiety over this.

Then there really needs to be,

of course, we need
all of the above.

Nobody who's advocating
for behavioral changes,

thinks that we can solve
climate change or any

environmental issue just
through voluntary behaviors.

but I think the like overblown worry

about that undermining support

for big policies is just that, overblown.

I've done some other work looking

at the kind of related work

looking at how learning
about other policies

affects people's support for
things like carbon taxes.

So there's a similar
kind of concern that if

people learn about the
private sector responses,

they learn about what
Walmart's doing.

Or they learn about

technological approaches
like geoengineering.

That, that will also kind
of undermine support

for the big government
policies that we really need.

So fear that they'll
say, "Oh, you know,

private corporations are
taking care of it" or "oh,

there's this technological
silver bullet

and that's going to
take care of that."

And why, again, find
when I do studies

like this is that
when there are facts,

they tend to be small and they

seem to be about communication.

So if you correctly
tell people that

these actions on their own

are not going to
solve climate change.

Well then they believe
you and it doesn't

undermine support for
larger government actions.

So I don't think this is
an inherent problem with

these kind of
non-government responses.

I think this is a
communication issue.

People don't really
understand the magnitude of

climate change or the magnitude
of different approaches.

But if you correct

then they get it and they

understand that we need
other stuff as well.

Another area that's related

to other areas of policy that
I find really interesting.

I'm just starting to get into

this new grant to study
how people perceived

the intersection
of climate change

and immigration, migration.

So there has been increasing
coverage of the way that

climate change is going

to force people to
leave their homes.

And sometimes moving
within the US from

one region to another and
sometimes moving from

other countries to the US.

Or international migration,

whether it's to the US
or to other places.

There has been increasing
coverage of this.

And I think this coverage is

often motivated by a goal to get

readers or viewers concerned

about climate change and

the consequences
of climate change.

And kind of implicit in
that is the hope that,

that will get people to be

motivated to do something
about climate change.

But we don't really
know how members of the

public react to this news.

And in some preliminary work,

my colleagues and I found that

these messages may actually

not do much to motivate
climate change mitigation,

but may instead just provoke
anti-immigrant sentiments.

This idea that, Oh my gosh,

there's going to be these
hordes of people coming to us.

We should build a bigger wall.

And so with this grant,

I'm trying to figure
out some ways

to talk about this issue because
it's an important issue,

an important consequence
of climate change.

But we want to be able to
communicate it in ways

that motivate climate action and

don't invoke
anti-immigrant backlash.

So super interesting,
challenging problem.

But one that I think is super
important as we think about

the interplay of people
and the environment.

So that's it. Happy Earth Day.