Do messages encouraging high-impact climate behaviors affect support for climate policy?


Reduce the amount of meat in your diet. Switch to a green energy provider. Install solar panels. Reduce food waste at home. Make an electric vehicle (EV) your next car purchase. Reduce the amount you fly by at least one flight a year. Purchase carbon offsets.
March 8, 2023

These are seven high-impact individual climate mitigation behaviors individuals can adopt to reduce their carbon footprint. But does encouraging these behaviors undermine individual support for climate change policy?

In a journal article published in Oxford Open Climate Change, Rare co-authors Abdurakhim Rakhimov and Erik Thulin demonstrate how messages encouraging individuals to adopt climate mitigation behaviors does not change their stated support for climate solutions at the policy level. In fact, individual behaviors can – and must – serve to support each other.

What sparked our curiosity?

Previous studies examining the relationship between individual behavior change and policy support for climate initiatives have yielded mixed results. But in the context of the climate crisis, policymakers and program designers must be aware of all strategies in their toolkits. This awareness includes understanding whether programs that rely on messaging to promote high-impact individual behavior change (such as flying less, buying an electric vehicle, eating less meat, and reducing food waste) risk undermining policy support.

Study details:

Rare randomly assigned study participants to one of two groups: the individual behavior messaging condition or a neutral control. In the experimental condition, the researchers presented participants with a message describing seven high-impact individual climate-mitigating behaviors. To highlight these behaviors’ impact, Rare told participants that if 10% of Americans adopted each behavior, the U.S. would be back on track to meet its global commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Participants in the control condition were not shown the message about the seven behaviors. Finally, all participants stated their support for a carbon tax.

Research findings:

The study revealed that the messages—which recommended that individuals adopt high-impact climate behaviors and highlight their significant impact—do not affect stated support for a carbon tax. In fact, behavior shifts offer high mitigation potential and can create demand for policy and regulatory shifts. 

Based on the results, policymakers and program designers addressing climate change should view behavioral solutions and messages as complementary allies in driving large-scale climate policy shifts.  

What’s next?

Oxford Open - Climate Change cover image.

In an exploratory analysis, the researchers found that messaging on individual action results in a higher intention to adopt several climate behaviors.

Additionally, while this study focused on one green policy area (support for a carbon tax), follow-up studies may measure the effect of messaging on support for behavior-specific policies, such as federal tax credits for EVs.


Explore Rare’s research to learn how we use behavior-centered design to solve our most significant environmental challenges.