Research & Insights

How Conservation Campaigns Fail

Communications campaigns raise awareness about environmental issues but still fail to influence behavior, particularly when people feel like others are to blame for the problem.

Published in the June 2014 issue of the journal Environmental Conservation, the results come from a survey conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of a communications campaign designed to encourage coastal residents to turn their lights off during sea turtle nesting season. The study was conducted by social psychologist Ruth Kamrowski and her colleagues at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia.

Light pollution is a major source of problems for the breeding reptiles, as they can become disoriented when emerging on the beaches to lay their eggs.

The survey asked over three hundred residents of a coastal community in Australia questions about their knowledge of the “Gut the Glow to Help Turtles Go” conservation campaign, their beliefs about human impact on turtle populations and whether they themselves made efforts to turn off lights during nesting season.

The researchers found that, while most people were aware of the glow-reduction communications campaign, nearly 65% of residents were not taking steps to reduce light pollution. This was despite the fact that most residents were interested in taking steps to help the turtles.

Instead of acting, many participants felt that they were not the biggest source of light pollution. Rather than focusing on their own contribution to the problem, they instead blamed city street lights and lights from restaurants and businesses for the excessive glow.

“Dominant perceptions were that respondents lived too far from the beach for their lights to be an issue, or that respondents were already taking necessary action or did not produce contributing light they believed that other lights were to blame,” the researchers explain.

Because residents felt that they could not take effective action to reduce the glow, they were less likely to engage in turtle-friendly behaviors. Residents were uncertain as to whether or not their actions mattered.

“These results highlight the importance of understanding what individuals know and believe about environmental issues, and their potential solutions, for designing effective programmes to motivated individuals to take action,” according to the researchers.

Environmental Conservation 

Ruth L. Kamrowski, Stephen G. Sutton, Renae C. Tobin, and Mark Hamann, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

Posted: March 15, 2016
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