An intriguing paper in Nature argues that the usual method of getting people into environmental activism by doing little things first (turn out that light! take a shorter shower!) is actually counter-productive for getting real change.

Across six experiments, including one conducted with individuals involved in policymaking, we show that introducing a green energy default nudge diminishes support for a carbon tax. We propose that nudges decrease support for substantive policies by providing false hope that problems can be tackled without imposing considerable costs.

The report can be read here.

I touched on this idea in a recent column (here) which discussed how my enthusiasm for recycling has run up against the market’s troubling reality and a concern that it might be more of a band-aid than a solution. I’m going to touch on it again in my next column, following up on a discussion I had with some local eco-activist teenagers.

By the way, I inadvertently found a perfect way to dampen save-the-earth enthusiasm among high schoolers: Tell them that the single best thing their school could do environmentally is to ban student cars and make everybody take the bus. Silence descended.

If nothing else it brought home the level of sacrifice that society will need to make to tackle climate change.

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