Manipulating behavioural change for good

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Cascade Institute Polycrisis fellow Megan Shipman recommends a read of this paper by Merz et al, and related coverage in The Guardian. 

Megan shares a compelling synopsis, below:

“The authors argue that we’ve reached an economic overshoot of 1.7 earths, meaning that our consumption demands the resources of nearly 2 full earths. In order to curb this consumption, we need to fundamentally alter human behaviours which are biologically rooted and have been exploited by marketing as well as economic, political, and social norms to create our highly unsustainable culture.

For example, one way that we show social standing (a predisposition from early hominid mate attracting behaviour) is through purchases that indicate our value (such as cars, designer clothes, new phones), and this has been reinforced through product marketing. Supporting this argument, “the top 20 wealthiest individuals on Earth produce 8000 times the carbon emissions of the poorest billion people.”

The authors argue that because this world-view shaping promotes an unsustainable level of consumption and happened without our consent, that we need to find ways to manipulate behavioural change for good. One example in which social norms have been altered for greater sustainability (preventing overpopulation) was through a telenovela that promoted women’s education and birth control amidst a dramatic storyline. Watchers reported adopting new means of birth control as seen on the show and indicated that they wanted to have fewer children than people who had not seen the show. This creates potential ethical issues about behaviour manipulation and who should have this sort of control.”

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