Cornell’s Eiseman counsels Scotland on climate policy support

A Cornell researcher is collaborating to help Scotland achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045 through education to support new, stronger climate-action policies.

Danielle Eiseman, right, and Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, attend the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Poland late in 2018. Eiseman wrote a report — released in July — on how Scotland can engage its citizens for stronger policies to alleviate climate change.

ClimateXChange, Scotland’s research center that connects climate change research to policy, enlisted Danielle Eiseman, Cornell visiting lecturer in communication, and Iain Black, professor of sustainable consumption at the University of Stirling, Scotland, to suggest approaches that encourage public support for the country’s ambitious climate-change policies. Their new report, “Climate Change Behavior – Segmentation Study,” released July 5, will inform Scotland’s public engagement strategy.

“Scotland has always had an ambitious climate-change mitigation strategy,” said Eiseman, who’s also program manager for the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions. “They have an aggressive program and – with a population of 5.5 million people and a looming threat of more global warming – they want to become more aggressive.”

Previous studies have found that Scottish people’s overall awareness of climate change has increased over the last decade, including a greater acceptance that human activities have fostered climate change.

Eiseman and Black identify and evaluate different approaches to addressing the public on attitudes related to climate change in their report, which includes the latest ideas on how to change public behavior. Their paper suggests peer-to-peer communication as a way build social capital and focus on locally relevant issues to galvanize values, beliefs and attitudes.

“We’re suggesting that the Scots move away from traditional approaches to sending messages to their populations segments and look closely at how activities in daily lives are interwoven,” Eiseman said.

“When you ask somebody to consider cycling to work instead of driving, you’re not creating a message based on their attitude about it. You’re creating a message based on understanding that getting to and from work isn’t just hopping in your car,” Eiseman said. “It’s dropping off kids or running errands or whatever other activities are associated with getting to and from work.”

Replacing the car with an environmentally friendly option like cycling, Eiseman said, requires consideration of the activities associated with commuting, and some social aspects – like being able to shower, getting a bike onto public transit, storing a bike in a safe spot or feeling safe on the road. “Those aspects need to be considered,” she said. “That’s what we recommend ultimately.”

ClimateXChange received the suggestions well, Eiseman said. “We’ll see a different way of encouraging the public to change their behavior,” she said. “In Europe, the United Kingdom and Scotland, changing public behavior is a big part of meeting their emissions targets.

“It’s time to take more ambitious action,” she said, “and the Scots will see messaging and policies that go beyond acting to switch off their lights or riding bicycles, instead of driving cars. We’re excited about it.”

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Jeff Tyson