Policy, Culture or Purse Strings?

Over at the California Planning & Development Report web site, Bill Fulton posted a question that I–and many of my friends and colleagues working on climate change–have been wrestling with for some time:

Is it better to encourage behavior change through government policies and legislation, or is it more effective to inspire people to reduce their impacts on the environment by playing on emotions?

A classic example of the latter is this ad by the Flex Your Power campaign here in California:

Bill Fulton teases out the idea of a Futurama-type campaign… one that gives people a positive view of the future–something that they will want to be a part of and, thus, change their behaviors to reach. (I’m sure Bill found the irony of a GM exhibit of a future 1960’s dominated by highways and cars equally acidic.)

What I’ve seen in the climate change camp is a lot of uncertainty and disagreement over the best course of action.

Personally, I fell into the camp of “why use a single bullet when buckshot will do?” I worked to help individuals make personal changes that were easy and rewarding, but mostly because that was an area I thought I could influence. And I also engaged in policy analysis and recommendations.

But what I’ve seen over the last few months as a result of higher gas prices has given me a lot of pause. After two+ years of heightened awareness of the climate crisis and the greening (if not greenwashing) of everything from Hollywood to Clorox, I’ve seen more new people jumping on bicycles and mopeds in the last two months than the previous 24. And the answer why is simple. It starts with a dollar sign and the number 4.

So when we ask ourselves what will win the race to change our fossil fuel dependent lifestyles–policy or culture–I think we may need to add another horse to the race: purse strings.

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