Do environmental messages do more harm than good?

I’m sure we’ve all seen messages deriding the population for flying too much or generally wasting electricity. Most of these messages seem to be framed to highlight the sheer amount of waste we produce, something like “10 million Brits fly each year producing 1 billion tonnes of co2 per year”, or something similar.

It got me thinking, does this kind of message actually encourage people to fly rather than the intended result of discouraging people from taking to the air? I read a psychology study yesterday from America that seems to suggest just that. The study focused on Petrified Forest National Park, and the theft of petrified wood from the forest by visitors.  The park had a number of signs dotted around saying:

Many past visitors have removed petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest

The theory goes that because the signs highlighted how many people stole wood it reinforced that behaviour.  So a study was setup whereby an extra sign was added, along with areas with no warning sign at all.  The new sign said:

Please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest

With an image of a lone theft and a red warning sign around his hand.

The results were quite staggering.  The old sign saw theft at just under 8%, no sign at all saw theft at just under 3%, and the new sign saw theft fall to under 2%.

So, the point of this post.  Are all the environmental messages that highlight the sheer scale of the damage we’re doing to the environment having the adverse effect of highlighting just how many of us do it, and therefore supporting the activities involved rather than discouraging them?

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2 thoughts on “Do environmental messages do more harm than good?

  1. Remember when you were a kid and were told not to smoke? Did you listen? 🙂

    The manner in which you’re told to ‘do this’ or ‘do that’, and what you hear and understand your peers to be doing, must most definitely influence what you do yourself to some degree, even if you don’t realise it at the time.

  2. Pingback: ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS PICKS « The Conservation Report

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