SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION:
WHAT CAN EDUCATION ACCOMPLISH?
We have discussed educational interventions aimed at promoting fairly specific pro-environmental attitudes and beliefs among individuals and overcoming internal barriers, such as lack of knowledge or commitment, that keep them from acting on those attitudes. Education can make a difference in people's behavior, but there are serious limits to what it can accomplish. The chapter supports the following general conclusions:
In the short term, educational approach • work only when the main barriers to action ar interna o the individual. As we have seen, education live mainly with relatively simple, low-cost behaviors, such as depositing cans in curbside recycling bins or altering home thermostat settings. Such actions help, but they typically have smaller effects on the environmental problems they are meant to lessen than more permanent actions such as purchasing an energy-efficient vehicle or appliance (see Chapter 10). Information has also been effective in getting people to request home energy audits, an action that has the potential to lead to larger and more permanent energy savings and environmental benefits by changing heating and cooling equipment. Nevertheless, when protecting the environment requires great effort or expense, as it often does, there is no experimental evidence that education alone will do the job. Under such conditions, behavior change requires interventions to reduce the external barriers to action. We examine those interventions in the next chapters.
Education may have important indirect effects over the long term. Though external barriers to individual action limit the effectiveness of education in the short run, education may have important positive, though indirect, effects in the long run. For example, the block-leader approach to recycling (discussed in tightening the Links) had indirect beneficial effects by changing community norms. A longer-term and possibly more important indirect effect—one we have not yet discussed in this chapter—can occur when education changes people's political behavior; this behavior, in turn, changes government policy so as to lower the external barriers to pro-environmental behavior. The history of smoking reduction illustrates this process. Over the several decades since the health hazards of smoking became established and widely publicized, the proportion of smokers in the United States has slowly decreased. During that time, scientists, physicians, and other individuals who became convinced of the dangers became politically active and brought pressure on governments and other powerful actors to bring down the barriers to behavior change and alter some of the incentives that govern smoking. Since 1964, cigarette advertising has been restricted, tobacco taxes have been deliberately raised, no-smoking rules have been applied in airplanes and many public buildings, life insurance companies have made smokers pay more than nonsmokers for coverage, and employers have implemented antismoking programs. These changes are fair because governments, employers, and insurance companies incur higher costs for smokers than for nonsmokers. At the same time, these changes have made it easier for individuals to act on antismoking attitudes. People who intend to stop smoking find more justifications and social support, and nonsmokers find it easier to speak their minds to smokers. Some of these changes, of course, even influence people whose attitudes are not antismoking.
By a similar process, changes in environmental attitudes may come to affect behavior over the long term. A generation of voters and environmental activists, influenced by the writings of Rachel Carson (1962), Paul Ehrlich (1968), Barry Commoner (1970), and other scientist-educators, has pressed government agencies, corporations, and other important actors to implement new policies on air and water pollution, energy development, and land use, and thus change the way they treat environmental resources. Some of these policies also remove barriers to individuals' acting on their own pro-environmental attitudes, and thus change individual behavior. For example, they have helped bring more energy-efficient automobiles and appliances to market, so that environmentally conscious consumers can buy them. If education about environmental problems has been indirectly responsible for these advances in environmental policy over the last few decades, this would be a highly significant accomplishment. Although it is difficult to conclusively demonstrate the causal role of education over such long time periods, improved public awareness and understanding are among the most plausible causes of the policy changes. This sort of long-term effect of attitude change provides a key rationale for environmental education programs in the schools.
Education is only likely to induce behavior that is compatible with people's deeper values. As we note above, environmental values and ethical beliefs are broader and more deeply rooted than environmental attitudes or the specific beliefs addressed in this chapter. They are also more difficult to change. Therefore, educational efforts aimed at attitude change are unlikely to succeed if they go against people's ethics and values. An example may be the repeated efforts of a coalition of nuclear energy industries through the 1980s and early 1990s to change public attitudes toward nuclear power with multimillion dollar advertising campaigns emphasizing the benefits of the technology. After well over a decade, public opinion is even more strongly opposed than before. The bases for public opposition to nuclear power are discussed in detail in Chapter 9.
Educational programs are more effective when they are designed according to psychological principles of communication and also directly address the links between attitudes and behavior. As the chapter repeatedly shows, making information available is not the same as getting it used. Even when people are being asked to act according to their attitudes, and so are predisposed to use information, it is essential to make special efforts to get their attention, use infor mation sources the audience trusts, and involve the recipients of the information in the effort. It may also be necessary to remind people that their pro-environmental attitudes apply to the situation at hand, and to tell them what to do to enact the attitudes. These things need to be done in different ways for different behaviors and audiences, and the chapter illustrates a number of useful tools for the purpose.
Education works best when combined with other strategies of intervention. We have seen how external barriers such as cost and difficulty keep educational programs from reaching their goals. We have also seen that programs work best when they do more than just educate. For example, recall that when an energy conservation program provided water-flow restrictors along with information on how to use them and on what they could save, it achieved its only behavioral success (Geller, 1981). These observations support a more general conclusion, that education and other strategies can act in synergy: The effects of both together are greater than one would expect from their separate effects.
The general point has been demonstrated by decades of research on health promotion, showing that educational campaigns are not enough to change individuals' smoking, drinking, dietary, and exercise behavior without supplementary efforts. However, education plus other changes can make an important difference over time. In the words of one review of the literature (Green, Wilson, and Lovato, 1986):
... [I-Health promotion has been occurring and health practices have been changing. . . . The changes have been more notable since the advent of official policies supporting nonsmoking with more than information alone. . . . Organizational changes, such as smoking restrictions on airplanes, restaurants, and other public places have helped. Economic supports, such as excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol, insurance incentives for driver training, not smoking, and blood pressure control, have helped. Environmental supports for behavior conducive to health, such as regulations on marketing food products as healthful and availability of fitness facilities in worksites and public parks, have helped. The combination of these supports with health education appears to have made a substantial dent in social norms of health-related behavior (p. 513).
Gardner & Stern. (1996). Environmental Problems and Human Behavior. Boston: Allyn and Bacon