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Climate change communicators’ carbon footprints affect their audience’s policy support

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Global warming is caused mainly by CO2 emission from burning fossil fuels and is beginning to have large negative impacts on human well-being and ecosystems (IPCC 2014; IPCC 2018). Policies that mitigate CO2 emissions will require public support. Here, we examine how support for several possible decarbonization policies varies as a function of the personal carbon footprint of a researcher who advocates the policy. We find that people are more likely to support policies if the advocate for these policies has a low carbon footprint. Replicating our prior work, we find that the communicators’ carbon footprint massively affect their credibility and intentions of their audience to conserve energy (Attari, Krantz and Weber 2016). Our new finding is that their carbon footprint also affects audience support for public policies advocated by the communicator. In a second study, we show that the negative effects of a large carbon footprint on credibility are greatly reduced if the communicator reforms their behavior by reducing their personal carbon footprints. The implications of these results are stark: effective communication of climate science and advocacy of both individual behavior change and public policy interventions are greatly helped when advocates lead the way by reducing their own carbon footprint.

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  1. In Attari et al. (2016), α was around .87 for the 15 vignettes without high home energy use but only about .76 for the 3 high home energy vignettes.

  2. The three behavioral intentions are analyzed in separate logistic regressions. These three dichotomous responses were part of a set of seven yes/no items, presented together in one section of the survey. The multivariate structure of these seven responses was analyzed in Attari et al. (2016) but does not add much of interest beyond modest intercorrelation of the intentions.

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Funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES–0951516) and the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. We thank Steven Bakovic and Andrew Barnes for research support.

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Authors and Affiliations



S.Z.A. and D.H.K. designed research; S.Z.A. collected the data; S.Z.A. and D.H.K. analyzed data; and S.Z.A., D.H.K., and E.U.W. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Shahzeen Z. Attari.

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This research was approved by Indiana University’s Internal Review Board at the Office of Research Administration, and informed consent was received from all participants.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Attari, S.Z., Krantz, D.H. & Weber, E.U. Climate change communicators’ carbon footprints affect their audience’s policy support. Climatic Change 154, 529–545 (2019).

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