The current administration’s recent announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change is an undeniable setback for environmental conservation efforts worldwide. The Paris agreement gives world a fighting chance of ensuring that the global temperature increase this century does not exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There is no way to spin the exit of one of the world’s top polluters as anything but a blow to this endeavor.
We know that many people around the world believe climate change is a serious threat, and the United States’ Presidential decision does not waver our commitment to uncovering innovative ways to help people follow through on their desire to protect the environment for future generations. We are proud of the work we have done in the sustainability space, from conserving water in Costa Rica to reducing plastic waste in Chicago to creating a methodology for applying behavioral science to sustainability efforts worldwide with the UN Environment Programme—yet we have barely scratched the surface of the tangible impact behavioral science can have on this work.
Environmental protection for the future can feel vague and distant amid life’s day-to-day obligations and deadlines. We know from behavioral science research that this creates a barrier to taking action on this problem, even if we fully intend to live a more sustainable life. That’s one reason behavioral science is such a critical tool for fighting climate change. Scientists’ predictions about the negative impacts of climate change, such as serious water scarcity and extreme weather events that could impact billions of people, are daunting—but simply giving people that information does not inspire lasting change. Instead, as we’ve discovered in our work in sustainability, people may be moved to action by very different, and often surprising, motivations. We are more committed than ever to building on what we have learned so far, and we know we aren’t alone.
States and cities around the country, as well as some private sector actors are already stepping up as leaders in the commitment to facing climate change, including an emergence of a coalition of states led by Washington, New York and California. Like them, we’re still in.
We’re turning our disappointment into action by actively seeking new projects that can create positive environmental impact. We know that it is essential to unite and look to leaders like these—and those in other countries working toward their goals under the Paris agreement—for new partnerships that can clear the path to innovation using evidence-based insights from behavioral science.
So, we’d like to know: which environmental challenges do you want to tackle?