WeKnew.org: Messages to the future about climate change impacts and actions by WeKnew.org team
WeKnew.org imagines the future through the eyes of our children. When asked, “What did you do about climate change?” What will you say?
“Then you were born, and something happened to me - all of a sudden I realized it was your world, and your children and children's children, that I'd been using all these years.” - WeKnew.org, May 20, 2015
"In 2020, you will be seven years old, in school, and likely learning about climate change. Perhaps this will be the first time you will ask me what I did about it. I hope I can make you proud." - WeKnew.org, May 27, 2015
WeKnew.org is a conversation with the future about climate change. It asks people to reflect on the question, “You know about climate change. What are you doing about it?”
We are creating an online community for people to reflect, write, post, read, and share messages. The idea of writing down these messages is for each of us to identify our own personal reasons for taking actions now and in the future, reflect upon what has held us back from taking bigger steps, and to get on a pathway to climate mitigation by finding and taking our personal next step on climate protection.
The power of WeKnew.org is twofold. First, we increase individual motivation to act on climate change by connecting with values that matter to parents. Then, we help each person find the next step they can take on their climate mitigation pathway. Over time, we follow up on their commitments and continue to guide them through deeper levels of engagement on climate mitigation.
What actions do you propose?
Despite major risks of climate change, globally, we have failed to sufficiently prioritize climate change mitigation (IPCC 2014). The failure to prioritize climate change mitigation is due, in part, to the disconnection between our lives today and future climate impacts (Moser 2010). This project strengthens that connection in two ways. Writing a message to one’s children living in the future puts individuals in a future mindset and frames the climate issue as one of parental responsibility. Here we briefly review the scientific literature supporting the effectiveness of these aspects of the project.
First, the response to climate change is vulnerable to the problem of present bias due to the structure of immediate costs and far future benefits (Laibson 1997). Psychologists find that if you can get people into a future mindset, then they make more future-oriented decisions (Malkov & Zauberman 2006, Rogers & Bazerman 2008, Hershfield et al 2011, Radu et al 2011, Israel et al 2014). In this project, we seek to reduce present bias by changing the time perspective.
Secondly, this project increases the salience of the future impacts of climate change by connecting them with a loved one. Climate change has a many layers of uncertainty and ambiguity makes decisions sensitive to framing (Nisbet 2009). Parental responsibility is a powerful frame for parents and grandparents because it makes future impacts more vivid and connects decisions with strongly held values integral to individual identity. The framing also evokes moral responsibility, which is an effective motivator of climate change mitigation (Weber 2010, Dietz 2013).
In our decisions, we put more weight on vivid outcomes and less weight on those that are not as clear (Akerlof 1991, Higgins 1996, Bordalo et al 2012). Both aspects of this project make the benefits of today’s choices more vivid (Nisbett & Ross 1980, Trope & Liberman 2010). If the benefits are more vivid, then they should receive more weight in the decision-making process and lead to a higher willingness commit to climate change action.
For individuals to take actions to mitigate their own climate impact or to engage on the issue to provide political support for policy solutions, individuals must know that there are viable solutions. Moreover, those solutions must not conflict with their existing worldviews (Campbell & Kay 2014). Public commitment to action increases the level of follow-through (Lokhorst et al 2013). Further, making information easy to find and creating a plan for follow through further increases engagement (Leventhal et al 1965).
WeKnew.org participant actions:
Write a letter. We invite people from all over the world to write a letter to their children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, loved ones, and future generations about climate change.
Write a postcard. In lieu of a longer letter, people will have the opportunity to write a short message that recognizes the problem of climate change and asks them to identify 1-2 initial actions they can take to address climate change.
Share and read messages. Reading other people’s messages is a powerful way to shift the perspective on climate change from a politically charged issue to an issue of personal and moral responsibility. It is also a way to share ideas and build momentum for taking action on climate change. The website makes it easy for people to share any message on Facebook and Twitter.
Submit and curate actions. We invite participants to submit ideas for actions they can take online and at the household, community, state, national and international levels. These actions will include individual and household behavior change, as well as community, political, and investment actions. There is phenomenal work on climate change happening all over the world and all over the web. We want to bring together information about all the organizations, campaigns and products that can help individuals work towards climate change mitigation. We also ask for participants to up vote or down vote action items and tag action items with relevant categories (e.g., “at home,” “political,” “easy”). The up/down voting enables the wisdom of the crowd to curate actions and bring the best ideas to the forefront. The tagging helps us to match actions with the interests of each individual.
Commit to "The Next Step." Participants will fill out a brief survey about basic demographics and current levels of engagement on climate change. Based on these answers and the ratings and tags of actions in the database, we will suggest three options for their next steps. Each action will have a photo, a short description, and then a link to additional information and discussion feed. We will also tell them what percentage of people like them already do or have recently committed to the suggested action. Participants can mark each action as "Already Doing," "Commit," or "Maybe Later." If they choose "Already Doing" or "Maybe Later," then the action is replaced with a new suggestion. Once they make a commitment to a new action, they are not given further suggested actions. We ask them to publicly commit by sharing the tweet-length action on twitter and Facebook.
Follow through and the next "Next Step." Two weeks after committing to an action, we contact them and ask if they have followed through on their commitment.
- If they have followed through with their action, we ask if they want to take the next step. This step would be in the same domain as their last action, but more advanced. Or it would be on the same level, but in a different domain (personal instead of political, local instead of online).
- If not, we ask them what barriers stood in their way. Then we ask them if they would like help to overcome those barriers or if they would like to commit to a different action. This action would be either easier than the last or would be in a different action domain.
WeKnew.org team actions:
Build the website. WeKnew.org is an online platform where people can write, post, and share messages to their children, grandchildren, and loved ones about the problem of climate change and what they are doing to address this global challenge. In the next phase of the project, we will expand the ways that people can submit messages (shorter postcard messages, photos and videos) and develop the actions side of the website. We utilize the power of crowd sourcing to bring together the best ideas for actions from across the world with both individual steps and collective efforts from other organizations. When fully developed, the site will match participants with a personalized set of three specific, targeted actions that participants can take in their home, community, and online to address climate change. They can commit to those actions, check them off as things they already do, or request other options. In two weeks, we follow up on their commitment and provide them with additional targeted actions. As we get more data on what actions went well for people and led to further actions and what did not go as well, then we can refine our matching algorithm and improve on how well we find the best next step for each individual.
Build partnerships. The WeKnew.org team is working to establish partnerships with organizations that share similar values and ideas about how to address climate change. We are currently developing partnerships with traditional environmental organizations, environmental groups focused on engaging parents, parenting groups, schools and educational programs, businesses, and other non-traditional organizations working on climate protection. Partnering organizations will write, post, share their letter, conduct outreach to their constituents, and where appropriate provide logistical support to the project. WeKnew.org will provide partners with a tool for further engaging their own constituents' commitment to climate change and increase their outreach to new constituents. We are already in discussions with a number of potential partner organizations including Moms Clean Air Force, Climate Parents, Mothers Out Front, the Global Catholic Climate Alliance, and Project ARCC.
Launch campaign. WeKnew.org will officially launch in September 2015 and continue to build the campaign in the months leading up to the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Paris. The launch process will include an ambassadors project, celebrity message campaign, a traditional media campaign, and a social media campaign (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogging). The main activities of the launch will correspond with major global climate change initiatives such as the October 14th Day of Action and the UNFCCC COP in Paris. This project will continue to build into 2016, focusing first on engagement in the United States, with the plan to expand the project into other countries.
Develop the archive. The WeKnew.org team intends to deliver the messages to their intended recipients in 2050. The knowledge that this message will be read by one’s own children some day paired with the opportunity to amend letters over time to reflect further actions and reflections will serve as a powerful motivator of sustained commitment to climate mitigation. Moreover, the messages gathered through this project will serve as a powerful historical record of how people understood and took action of climate change in the early 21st century. The messages will be an invaluable archival resource for future generations to understand this period of history. We will develop an archival repository to preserve, deliver, and provide access to the letters for the benefit of current and future scholars, researchers, educators, students, activists, journalists, and the general public.
Fundraising. We have been able to develop this idea, our strategy, and the initial website on limited funds. We are currently seeking funds to take the project to the next level in terms of website development and campaign strategy. Our working theory has been that by establishing the initial concept and project, we will be able to generate momentum for the project that will lead to further sources of external funding. Our current fundraising strategy includes support from five areas: in-kind donations, private foundations, organizations with shared mission, individual donors, and Harvard University funding.
Who will take these actions?
The campaign is targeted at new parents and grandparents to write, share, and read letters, and to learn more about climate change impacts and actions, but is open to all people who want to participate.
There are a number of organizations concerned with climate change or that engage parents (environmental organizations, businesses, parenting groups, churches, schools, community groups) that will be able to use the WeKnew.org online tool to help build their constituency and to deepen their constituency's understanding and engagement on climate change.
The WeKnew.org team:
- Trisha Shrum, Co-Founder and Executive Director
- Jill Kubit, Co-Founder and Finance & Outreach Director
- Jennie Hatch, Co-Founder and Campaigns Director
- Sebastian Serra, Co-Founder and Technology Director
- Claudia Doblinger, Advisor
- Brooke Suter, Advisor
- Casey Davis, Archivist
- Jennifer Haugh, Grant-writer & Advisor
WeKnew.org partners, supporters & affiliates:
- Global Catholic Climate Alliance
- Climate Parents
- Project ARCC
- Harvard Office of Sustainability
- RBI Strategies
- Van Ness Feldman law firm
- Steady Vision Web Design & Development
Where will these actions be taken?
The U.S. will be the first targeted country, but because this is an online campaign, people will be able to write, read, and post messages and take actions anywhere in the world. After the establishment of a successful U.S. campaign, the WeKnew.org team will expand to other selected countries (e.g., Brazil, India, and Mexico).
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
We will have a high impact by creating the political will to enact major climate change policies and helping individuals make some of the trillions of choices needed to put us on an emissions path that limits warming to 2C.
One of the biggest barriers to U.S. action on climate change is the fact that it is not a priority issue for most Americans. One of the keys to making climate change a priority voting issue is aligning it with the central identity and values of voters. WeKnew.org is a unique and powerful tool to create that alignment. This campaign has the potential to build the public support and political will for strong US policy commitments in the upcoming Paris COP and the 2016 US elections.
The "Next Step" tool utilizes best practices in behavioral science to help people find out how to mitigate their impact. We use the wisdom of crowds, public commitment, social norms, and a matching algorithm to give people the best options, help them follow through, and engage more deeply.
What are other key benefits?
This project has enormous potential to contribute to our scientific understanding of environmentally conscious behavior.
First, we will utilize randomized controlled trials at every opportunity to better measure and understand what aspects of our project are most effective and which should be changed. For example, we can randomize outreach to partner's member lists and measure whether our project deepens the level of engagement of members with their organizations. Or, we can study how suggesting different types of actions impacts the likelihood of follow through and further engagement.
Second, as we record people's reported current climate mitigation actions, new commitments, and successful follow through, we will have invaluable data to learn about what kinds of actions 'crowd-in' or 'crowd-out' motivation for further actions and deeper levels of engagement in environmentally friendly behavior. This is a key open question in behavioral science that has immense real-world implications.
What are the proposal’s costs?
WeKnew.org has currently been developing the concept, organizational structure, campaign strategy, and website with generous donations of time and expertise from a large team of supporters. This represents a significant opportunity cost of time of every individual who has and will continue to contribute to this project. Moving forward, we will continue to cultivate volunteer relationships with donated skills and time in addition to full-time paid staff positions.
In the very short term, our next major monetary cost is the contracting for a web development team. Our current website is limited in scope due to the non-developer-friendly platform we are using to build it. We have received estimates ranging from $12,000 to over $100,000. Given our current scope and relationships with web developers, we expect the next version of the website to cost about $35,000 to build.
We do not foresee any negative side effects of this project. As with any engagement tool, there is a potential to further polarize the climate discussion even though our goal is to broaden the base of people who feel personally invested in climate change. However, we are carefully planning and working with partners to insure diverse voices across social and political spectrums.
2015: In our first year, we will focus on developing the organization, building the next phase of the website, establishing a broad network of partners and project ambassadors, launching the initial campaign aligned with the lead up to the Paris COP (September - December 2015), and secure funding for the continued development of the program. Some key metrics for establishing success are to bring 1 million visitors to the website, 100,000 active users, and 10,000 messages. In the first year of the project, we will focus on carrying out a successful outreach in the U.S.
2020: In the next five years, this project aims to change the way people think about climate change by making it a major child/parent issue, provide clear documentation of people’s thinking on climate change and how it has evolved over five years, and become the go-to place internationally for people to learn how to take their next step on climate change mitigation.
2050 and Beyond: In the longer term, this project will provide a significant historical record about how people's thinking about climate change, its solutions, and the actions taken have changed over time. This will provide a tremendous resource for how future generations think about climate change solutions.
We are excited to generate synergy for climate change solutions by partnering with projects and organizations with a similar or complementary missions.
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