Research shows Americans are more likely to take climate action if they think their peers are doing it, too.

Americans are more likely to take climate action if they think their peers and neighbors are doing it too – or even if they think others think they should take action.

Rare’s Climate Culture Index is a nationwide research initiative that measures Americans’ mindsets about climate actions. In this latest Index, Rare examined Americans’ psychological states related to seven impactful climate actions in California, Texas, Boston, Denver, and the U.S. overall.

The results are below.

About the Research

Understanding public opinion and beliefs about climate actions and solutions can inform how we design and develop interventions and behavior change campaigns to accelerate adopting meaningful climate action. However, previous studies outside of Rare have mostly focused on examining trends in climate policy support, risk perceptions, or broad beliefs around climate change. While this research makes important contributions to climate change policymaking, it may not capture the specific beliefs and attitudes most closely connected with actually taking climate action.

The Climate Culture Index (CCI) fills this gap by tracking key psychological indicators found in the literature to support behavior change for climate action. The CCI is designed to measure changes in these indicators over time, helping us understand potential shifts in the American public’s beliefs about climate behaviors.

  • Rare’s first Index, conducted in 2021, identified impactful predictors of behavior change and established a baseline of the public’s beliefs around climate behaviors. This national Index also showed that one of the strongest predictors of climate action for a set of six high-impact emission-reducing behaviors is whether a person believes other people are already taking action.
  • In early 2023, in its second Index, Rare conducted a baseline measure of Americans’ beliefs around eight emission-reducing behaviors outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act. Here, too, we found that for many behaviors, a person’s belief that other people are engaging in a behavior is a stronger predictor of intention to adopt the behavior compared to climate beliefs, core demographics, or political leaning.
  • In June 2023, Rare’s third and latest Index estimated the changes from 2021 in psychological beliefs for three high-impact climate actions: purchasing carbon offsets, installing solar panels, and purchasing an electric vehicle (EV). In addition to the three behaviors for which we now have two-point estimates, Rare surveyed an additional four impactful behaviors: eating less beef, subscribing to community solar, completing a whole-home energy retrofit, and installing a heat pump for heating and cooling. In 2023, researchers at Rare expanded the Index methodology to establish baseline belief measures in two states (California and Taxes) and two populous metro areas (Boston and Denver).

Rare’s Climate Culture Index Results

Using the same methodology from the initial Indexes, Rare ran five separate online studies and surveyed 6,587 US adults on their beliefs and psychological states related to taking seven high-impact emission-reducing climate actions. Those surveyed were quota-sampled to match five geographies of interest to Rare’s U.S. climate program: the United States (n = 1,528), California (n = 1,496), Texas (n = 1,534), the greater Boston area (n = 1,015), and the greater Denver area (n = 1,014).

Top-level results

Rare analyzed both ‘leading indicators of behavior adoption’ and psycho-social states to understand their current baseline. These indicators included whether people reported adopting any behavior; their perceptions of how many others have adopted the behaviors; their self-efficacy (how confident they felt in their ability to adopt the behavior); and their intentions to perform the behavior in the future, among others.

How the Data has Changed: Purchasing an EV and Installing Solar (2021 vs. 2023)

Rapid adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) isn’t assured. Reported EV adoption hasn’t budged, and more Americans will need to start considering EVs and believing in the benefits for the adoption trend to grow reliably in the long term. The research indicates a decline in both personal and societal motivations to purchase electric vehicles among Americans from 2021 to 2023. Despite the higher visibility of EVs on the roads, which is consistent with industry data, there has been a dip in both peoples’ consideration and average intention to buy EVs. Personal normative beliefs around the importance of owning an EV have also weakened, as has the perceived societal pressure to drive one, suggesting a decrease in normative influences that motivate EV adoption.

In contrast, attitudes towards solar panel installation have shown a positive shift; more Americans now expect their circle of friends and neighbors to install solar panels, and the average intention to install solar also increased. However, this positive change in social norms contrasts with a decrease in perceived personal benefit of solar and one’s belief in their ability to do so. A decrease in these beliefs suggests that to drive intention and adoption of solar, we ought to design programs that not only boost early consideration of solar but also socialize the benefits of solar, dispel any myths, and build self-efficacy among homeowners.

Why research on climate action matters

Given the science and urgency of climate change, we must act immediately. The IPCC states that behavior- and lifestyle-related changes can enable significant future emissions reductions alongside the system-level changes needed. And research shows that large-scale behavioral data are key to climate policy.

However, people who don’t sense shifting norms around these behaviors are less likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors. People may also be less willing to discuss these behaviors and the issue of climate change when they misperceive where the norm for doing the behaviors lies. And finally, if people don’t believe in their ability to adopt a new behavior or technology, they are less likely to follow through on their intentions.

The ‘Normative Bubble’

As has been the case with our past results, the American public continues to underestimate how many people around them believe they should adopt the behaviors surveyed.

Across all behaviors surveyed, there is a “normative bubble,” or gap between what people believe (beliefs that others should adopt because it is the right thing to do, i.e., personal normative beliefs) and what they think other people believe (beliefs that others think people should adopt because it is the right thing to do, i.e., normative expectations).

Individually, the American public believes that adopting these behaviors is important (i.e., normatively correct); however, they underestimate how many other people believe the same. Since normative and empirical expectations were found to be moderate-to-strong unique predictors of intention to engage in climate behaviors, interventions that aim to increase the uptake of the behaviors should normalize climate action by making these norms more apparent.

Geography’s role in climate action

Map of the U.S. highlighting California, Denver, Texas, and Boston.In this third Index, we surveyed two states and two cities, seeking to evaluate any meaningful geographical differences in climate mindsets. The data revealed mostly minor differences, with fewer interesting distinctions than comparisons by other demographics such as age, gender, ethnicity, or climate concern.

However, we hypothesize that, as an audience, leaders will be more interested and compelled by data specific to their geography.

A few interesting differences stood out to us, both at a state and city levels:

California and Texas

  • An additional 10% of people living in California have considered purchasing an electric vehicle, compared to the national findings overall. In line with this finding, an additional 10% of people in California believe other drivers should also make a switch to electric, demonstrating a potentially higher normative acceptability of EVs there.
  • A staggering 77% of Californians believe that installing rooftop solar panels is the right thing to do, suggesting that messaging campaigns with normative appeals, publicizing acceptance of solar in the neighborhood, are likely to be one of the effective ways to boost consideration and adoption of solar.
  • In Texas, the average intention to eat less beef is on par with the national data. At the same time, more Texans have considered reducing their beef intake compared to Americans more broadly.

Boston and Denver

  • Most people in the Boston area think that few people in their surroundings are either driving an electric vehicle or installing solar panels. Although there has been a slight increase in EVs’ popularity since 2021 (as indicated by empirical expectations), this difference is small and practically insignificant.
  • Estimates for the beliefs and perceptions among the Denver population are largely on par with the national findings, with one notable exception: Reported adoption of heat pump ACs and average intention to install one in the future are lower in Denver than the country more broadly; so is self-efficacy. Collectively, these findings suggest a potential concern over the efficacy of heat pumps in cold weather among Denver residents.

For more information related to the Climate Culture Index research or findings, contact Brandon Schauer at