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Power of shame in solving climate impasse

6 Oct 2011, 18:05 UTC
Power of shame in solving climate impasse
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The world is awash in low-carbon technologies that aim to put the breaks on climate change. But perhaps a more limiting factor in solving the problem is the lack of “social technologies.”
From politicians to everyday consumers to corporations, there seems to be a lack of incentives to act green. UK journalist John Whitfield nailed the issue on the head in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.
Whitfield, who has a book coming out next month called, People Will Talk: The Surprising Science of Reputation, says in his essay that in addition to harnessing the sun or wind for the climate’s benefit, we should also harness the power of shame.
There’s been a steady body of research showing how shame, or social reputation, can make a big mark on human behavior. The problem for the climate is that shame works best in smaller social situations where people know and trust one another. It doesn’t work so well when it comes to nations and institutions, and it almost never works when there’s no transparency of information.
Whitfield says what’s needed are more strategies to publicly reward good performers and shame bad ones. There are some good examples to ...

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