April 2024_TDL Newsletter Art
Hi there,

Happy Earth Month! Is what I would like to say to you. But in fact, it is not a very happy Earth Month, is it? No, it is not. And do you know why? That’s right, it’s because of a little thing called climate change. Booooooo, climate change! 👎👎

If you’ve been keeping up with the TDL newsletter for a while, then you will likely know by now that I have climate anxiety in spades, and also that the Earth Day newsletter is when they let me be at my most unruly.[1],[2] And this year, renegade that I am, I would like to dial the unruliness up to 11 and suggest a bold proposition: we cannot behavioral-science our way out of climate change. 

Okay—dialing the unruliness back down, I will slap some caveats on that. Yes, behavioral science is incredibly useful for understanding the complexities of how people respond (or don’t respond) to the climate crisis. Over the years, we’ve published plenty of evidence-based articles exploring these dynamics,[3],[4],[5] talked to environmental behavior experts like Britt Wray and Kate Laffan about their work, and worked on a whole raft of exciting projects to help reduce carbon emissions.[6],[7],[8]

All of this is an important piece of the puzzle. But it isn’t enough. Behavioral science isn’t magic, and unless we pair it with other inventions, it’s not going to let us achieve the holistic, systemic changes we actually need. I keep thinking back to a line I read in Wray’s Gen Dread newsletter last year: “We’ve science-d this problem to death.” If things are going to change, we need to embrace a little intellectual humility and open our minds to other solutions.

What does that look like, exactly? That’s what we’re talking about in today’s newsletter.

Until next time,
Katie and the other (more normal) people @ TDL

📧 Whenever you think about climate change, do you feel like you’re just screaming and screaming and screaming into a black hole and nobody can hear you and then you’re swallowed up by an impenetrable darkness??? Our newsletter will absolutely not fix that problem, but you should still sign up for it here.
Today’s topics 👀
👉 What Nudges Can’t Do
☕ Field Notes: Brewing Better Habits
💭 Beyond BeSci
When BeSci Isn’t Enough

It’s very well established that cognitive biases and other behavioral effects hold us back from addressing climate change. Recent behavioral research, for example, found that consumers often fall prey to recycling bias: the tendency to focus on recycling over reducing consumption and reusing products where possible. So, why shouldn’t we try to fix behavioral problems with behavioral solutions?

Well, because climate change is a complex, multi-systems problem—and behavioral science tends to focus on individual-level behavior. True, there can be a lot of value in reducing our individual carbon footprints, especially among those of us who make up the world’s “carbon elite”—the richest 10% of the global population, or anyone making USD $38,000 or more. 

But at the end of the day, climate change is not just an environmental issue. It’s tied up with our global economic system, our policy choices, our individualistic and consumeristic culture… the list goes on. Big changes need to happen on all these fronts if we’re going to meaningfully address the climate crisis. 

Field Notes: Brewing Better Habits
Even though behavioral science can’t single-handedly solve the climate crisis, we’re still proud of the work we’ve done on the sustainability front. Just one example is our partnership with a multinational coffee chain, where we created an entire playbook of behavioral strategies to help reduce the number of disposable cups destined for landfill. Learn more about it on the TDL website
Coffee beans on a blue background.
💭 Beyond BeSci

+ We need to start telling different stories. We’ve built a system that prioritizes profit over human welfare, and it’s not working out so well. It’s time to look to other cultures, Indigenous cultures especially, to learn other ways we might relate to the planet—and to each other. 

+ We need to think differently about nature. At least here in the West, we tend to think of human society as existing somehow separately from nature. But in reality, we humans are just one part of a much larger natural ecosystem. Research shows that feelings of nature connectedness are linked to climate activism, suggesting that fostering our ties to the natural environment might spur more people to take action.

+ We need to feel our feelings (yes, really). Here in the Global North, “coping” with climate-related emotions often amounts to avoidance: let’s just not talk about it. But we’re headed for a very turbulent future, and we all need to get better at tolerating this discomfort. Not only that, but we need to let ourselves really experience those deep, difficult climate emotions—because that’s the only way we can harness them productively.

+ We need to talk to each other. Climate change isn’t a problem that can be addressed on the individual level—and arguably, it’s a byproduct of a society that has become highly individualistic, placing consumer demands over communal well-being. Initiatives like Climate Awakening, which hosts online spaces where strangers come together and talk through their climate emotions, are helping to move these conversations into the light.  

+ We need a climate movement that emphasizes equity. The effects of climate change are already disproportionately hitting those who are already marginalized. Even though the Global North produces 92% of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s those living in the Global South who will suffer the worst as a result. Our policies need to address this reality of climate apartheid, while still finding ways to foster growth in developing economies.  

A line graph showing how consumers perceive the impacts of sustainability initiatives at different points in the supply chain.
Most consumers believe that sustainability efforts have the greatest impacts early on in the supply chain. Nevertheless, they only felt empowered to make changes at the individual level by adjusting their consumption and disposal habits. (Source: Barnett et al. 2023, via Behavioral Scientist)
Why We Stick Our Heads in the Sand 
Nobody likes to hear bad news… so sometimes, we just ignore it altogether. That’s what behavioral scientists call the ostrich effect, and it’s probably one of the big reasons why so many people (including our leaders) delay taking action on the climate crisis. Learn more about it on our website.  
What’s new at TDL

TDL is hiring! We’re hiring for a number of positions, both remote and based in our Montreal office. Some open roles include: 

  • Consultant (MX)
  • Senior UX Designer (MX)

Find out more by visiting our careers portal

Want to have your voice heard? We'd love to hear from you. Reply to this email to share your thoughts, feedback, and questions with the TDL team.
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