Choices for climate action: A review of the multiple roles individuals play

Sam Hampton, L E Whitmarsh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

Tackling climate change requires significant behaviour change to reduce emissions; yet the scale of behaviour change required is far from being achieved. Behaviours are influenced by psychological characteristics, social and cultural norms, material and spatial environments, and political conventions. Much social scientific debate continues to be characterised by calls for either individual or system change. There is a need for more cross-cutting perspectives to understand the factors which can enable and accelerate pro-environmental choices. This Review provides an interdisciplinary synthesis of evidence on the potential and limitations of individual choice to mitigate climate change. We identify six domains of individual choice for climate action (food, energy, transport, shopping, influence and citizenship). Individual, social, physical and political factors combine to shape low-carbon choices in ways specific to each domain, demanding different responses from policymakers. We review evidence on what works to enable climate choices, and highlight the need for a mix of upstream, midstream and downstream interventions which address the multiple roles played by individuals.

Tackling climate change requires significant behaviour change to reduce emissions; yet the scale required is far from being achieved. Behaviours are influenced by psychological characteristics, social and cultural norms, material and spatial environments, and political conventions. Much social scientific debate continues to be characterised by calls for either individual or system change, but a more cross-cutting perspective to understand various factors that can enable and accelerate pro-environmental choices is needed. This Review provides an interdisciplinary synthesis of evidence on the potential and limitations of individual choice to mitigate climate change. We identify six domains of individual choice for climate action (food, energy, transport, shopping, influence and citizenship). We find that individual, social, physical and political factors combine to shape low-carbon choices but in ways specific to each domain, demanding different responses from policymakers. Effective climate action requires a mix of interventions which address the multiple roles played by individuals: structural change by governments (‘upstream’ interventions), businesses and local authorities making sustainable options more available and attractive (‘midstream’) and informational measures to shape individuals’ decision-making (‘downstream’) .
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1157-1172
Number of pages16
JournalOne Earth
Volume6
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding: This research has been enabled by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) grant ref: ES/V015133/1. Funding has also been received from ES/S012257/1. We thank the peer reviewers for their detailed and constructive comments in preparing this manuscript for publication.

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