Couples Can Influence Each Other’s Beliefs, Actions Around Climate Change: Study
Picture this: a date night with your partner, maybe you pick a cafe around the corner or choose to stay in, accounting for the rain or the heat. The conversation meanders to note the extreme weather, oh, how intense and catastrophic rains have been this year. Or, how the new state government is planning to undo environmental activists’ work by placing a metro project in a protected forest.
Turns out, this dialogue between partners holds much sway in shaping each other’s ideas around the climate crisis, and even prompting meaningful action, according to new research.
Published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the study looks at couples and climate crises, and how conversations can tip one another in opting for pro-climate policies and behaviors. The study builds on the premise that romantic couples indeed have a bearing on each others’ behaviors. We know partners can influence each other’s health choices, political ideologies, and even mundane behaviors. Our romantic relationships are compelled to change with a world, ecologically battered and broken.
“This study finds that people who are very concerned about climate change likely have close significant others that haven’t yet fully engaged [in] the issue. Climate conversations can start right at home, with your loved ones,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and co-author of the study.
The marriage of love and ecological chaos is hard to visualize — it is complex to describe the degree to which people’s individual ideas change, and what role the other person plays in this dynamic. In the present exploration, researchers at the Yale School of the Environment surveyed 758 couples, testing their knowledge about each other. How much do they understand each other’s beliefs on climate change? Are they individually worried about extreme weather and other impacts of climate change? Do they share those ideas and even their choices? Do they post about it or perhaps, donate to climate organizations? Basically, anything and everything to track the level of alignment between romantic couples. Then, they asked the participants to guess what their partner said. Think of it as an atypical relationship game, peppered with dismay around floods and fires.
The findings revealed some similarities, and some disagreements. The bad news first: only 38% of partners were aligned on each other’s climate beliefs, and 31% on individual behaviors. In some cases, one partner was “alarmed” while the other was evidently “less concerned.” But the good news is that conversations helped; partners were more likely to accurately understand the others’ climate beliefs and even shift towards it if they talked more about it.
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What is it about relationships that can convince people? It directly contrasts the detached messaging around climate science. Climate change communication that comes from a loved one not only carries the knowledge of the many complex parts that make the individual partner, but also includes an indescribable element of empathy. The plea is more passionate and personal. Moreover, it allows the person to see what eco-conscious behaviors could look like up close.
The impact visualized through relationships is the most immediate and vulnerable metric to imagine how our personal lives change with the deteriorating ecological landscape. So, it is inevitable that eco-conscious behaviors and ideas find space in dating and relationship trajectories.
“Mass communication is critical but might not be the most effective way to shift public support on climate change,” added Leiserowitz. “A partner knows their partner infinitely better than some unknown communicator — and knows how to harness the issues that their partner cares about to engage them in action on climate change.”
For instance, take Jake and Joe. If Joe is religious, Jake can frame the conversation around climate change while respecting Joe’s faith. They can discuss the impact of heat waves on health, or the problems with plastic use, in a way that includes the individual in the conversation instead of alienating them.
As The Swaddle noted earlier: “It can initially feel facetious to speak of romance in the same breath as the climate crisis. The former so personal and fleeting, the latter so public and terribly enduring. But love doesn’t have to be trivial in the face of ecological destruction; it can be a catalyst for change.”