Below is a compilation of my takeaways from some of the interviews I have conducted! This page is organized from the first interview at the top to the most recent interview at the bottom.

Ms. Hoeffler (Communications Coordinator at Sustainable Duke): July 1

General themes:

  • Optics: if people can see something, they’ll pay more attention
  • Personal wellness: can’t help environment until you help yourself
    • Caution fatigue: people are tired of caring
    • Focus in on PEOPLE to help them feel heard and cared for
    • When you are personally less stressed, problems in your life seem more approachable
  • Responsibility: 
    • She felt a strong sense of personal responsibility and called it “her fault” when people weren’t educated

Drives action:

  • Lenses of sustainability: helps to think beyond immediate effects
    • Ex: not just think about waste going in landfill, but also the jobs going away from recycling, the land cleared for more landfill space, the nutrients leaving the soil, etc.
  • Community input: getting more stakeholders involved
    • Make people feel heard and like they’re contributing to a project
  • Optimism: green devils = project based, can see a path forward
    • Less aggressive & absolute
  • Focus on people
    • Focus first on convenience, saving money, then good for environment
    • Caution fatigue: Focus in on PEOPLE to help them feel heard and cared for
    • Stories resonate!: ex justin and lucas
  • Sell it: make message engaging
    •  ex “greeting the home office”
    • Metaphor “person behind the curtain” with helping others in world
  • Establish emotional connection
    • Ex: tell parents about their kids’ futures
  • Take advantage of stress
    • 2007: durham had drought and duke was #1 consumer of potable water – caused duke to innovate
  • Educate: show people small ways to help environment!
    • Ex: she could’ve just made cheap laundry detergent on her own instead of knockoff dollar store
  • Negotiation: giving people “a break from sustainability”, taking a step back

Causes inaction:

  • Lack of presence and accessibility: Not having a physical office on campus makes it difficult for others to approach her
    • Optics: people are less aware bc they can’t see her office
  • Aggressiveness from sustainability leaders: makes it difficult to work together
    • Often only see micro level – don’t pay attention to big picture optics
  • Comfort: causes people to acknowledge but not solve problem
  • Not wanting to be told what to do “anti institution”

Maddie (Duke Green Devil Intern): July 2

General themes

  • Can think about changing “system” or changing “people”
  • 2 ways to think about it: changing SYSTEM, or educating PEOPLE
    • Takeout containers = systemic change
  • Always difficult to get people to personally relate to an issue

Drives action

  • Aligning sustainability with other interests
    • Some green devil interns started out being interested in urban development or another topic and then branched to sustainability
  • Tangible effects
    • Black lives matter really taking off on campus
  • Personal commitment 
    • Call to action
    • Also personal interest – especially for people majoring in enviro science
  • Personal motivation
    • Having a community to talk to
    • Little victories: When you see someone do something good or see interest sparked
    • Optimism: 
      • Motivating each other

Causes inaction

  • Treating events as cycles or outliers instead of patterns (hurricanes)
  • Eyeroll attitude from students: inconvenience, anti-institution/rules
  • Hard science = not enough solution based
  • Making things “more human” is difficult for her to understand bc she cares about the environment and not just humans

Clara (Sustainability at NCSSM): July 5

Drives action

  • Community: campus wide action
    • Social media AI project
    • campus wide action
    • Social media AI project
    • helps alleviate frustration
    • Boarding school = points system for hall 
    • Collectivist environment: people help sort recycling on the weekends
  • Independence: student led clubs means they don’t have to rely on teachers to start projects
  • Integration: climate change included in mini term, curriculum, assemblies, events
  • Consistency: club meets often
  • Timing: junior and senior year = older, leaders
  • Connection: make people care
    • NCSSM has more of a connection because of the STEM focus → people truly care about the science behind climate change
  • Support: school willing to give financial resources
  • Responsibility:
    • Ex recycling bins being taken away

Causes inaction

  • Other priorities
    • Stress
    • Busy schedule

Mayor Rett Newton (Beaufort, NC): August 4th

General themes

  • It’s all about how you “sell” things
    • If you present one important issue, people tend to not care too much, but if you put it together with other issues as a set of goals/a package, people buy in
      • It’s this idea of transformation that attracts people
  • Trauma, especially due to the effects of climate change (hurricanes) has a HUGE impact of people

Drives action

  • Personal commitment to action and the feeling of doing something tangible
  • Unity is essential
  • Without leadership, you can’t make progress
  • After you drill talking points in enough, you start to hear others echo those same ideas!
  • Patriotism/pride can be very effective in bringing people together for change
    • Sells plan as: North Carolina’s first Clean Water Coastal Community
  • Often have to be frank with people: “we have waste in our water”
  • MUST be visible and communicate
  • Showing people tangible positive effects
    • Wants to use metrics to show how housing prices have gone up in beaufort bc of improving water quality and infrastructure
    • This made me realize – Many times we give negative statistics about climate change, but we don’t use enough positive statistics (our actions have had x impacts)

Causes inaction

  • Having clearly outlined methods that show how you can help is key
    • Many times, people feel like they don’t have much of an impact or there’s not really anything they can do to stop a problem
  • Many people who aren’t as high in socioeconomic level don’t have the tools or energy to expend fighting climate change
  • Choosing to ignore a problem
    • Ex: septic system vs sewer system 
      • People are upset when beaches close, but they’re unwilling to understand WHY
  • Other issues coming first: especially when there’s desperation
    • Ex: need for jobs > newport river estuary’s well being

Dr. Anantha Aiyyer (Associate Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at NC State): August 11th

General themes

    • Don’t be snobby or aggressive about an issue! Simplifying it and having a conversation helps a lot
  • Setting small goals is helpful
  • Overall: talking to people and explaining things clearly really helps!

Drives action

  • Need more public science speakers
  • Lack of interest – people prefer to talk about other things
  • Having a more relaxed and informed response
    • Panic and anxiety ≠ action
  • Separating facts from opinion
  • PLANNING for small steps and deliberate action – don’t just make it a goal to drive less, plan out a new route that allows you to drive one mile less to work or decide on a few days where you’ll ride a bike
  • Be diplomatic – he prefaces conversations by explaining that he doesn’t want to completely eliminate fossil fuels outright, but rather, to shift towards cleaner energy
    • This takes the antagonism we often see towards the fossil fuel/petrochemical industries out of it
  • Showing people really simple models (ex: retrospective climate model runs) helps a lot

Causes inaction

  • Choosing to ignore a problem
    • Politicization – not talking about it
  • Lack of clarity about climate change
    • Uncertainty and misinterpretation of climate models
      • Confirmation bias
      • Lack of appreciation for subtlety and nuance
      • Confusion: Can often predict temperature response, but predicting how exact events or extreme weather behave is more difficult 
        • People often don’t understand this
      • Don’t know how to deal with scientific error
    • Lack of understanding about “research”
      • 1 google search ≠ research
  • Disconnect between universities/research institutions and public
    • A small proportion of population is in charge of a MASSIVE amount of knowledge, and that knowledge doesn’t get conveyed effectively
  • Guilt – making people feel guilty only makes them more apprehensive about climate change
    • Go incrementally instead!

Dr. Mick Smyer (Psychologist and Founder of Growing Greener): August 18

General Themes:

  • major events (ex: birth of grandson) = Wake up call
  • many people haven’t thought about how climate change intersects with fields that hard science
  • using design by analogy (examining methods others have previously used) helps significantly
    • behavioral change: he looked at Weight watchers, fitness coaches, meditation specialists, etc.

Drives action

  • Followed design principles: social, short, positive

4 questions:

  • Picture a place, any place in world that has special meaning to you
  • Picture that place affected by extreme weather/climate change
  • Picture what you WANT that place to look like in 40-50 years
    • For older people – this echoes the past
      • They want it to look like what it looked like 20 years ago
    • Younger groups want it too look like what it looks like now, but just a little bit better
      • College students are now saying 10 years ago
  • Picture something you can do now to work towards that vision
  • Asking for a small change – start with small changes, then work up to big changes
  • changing the story we tell ourselves – huge issue, what can one person do
    • Changes to: i’m committing to doing one more thing, i’m already doing many things
    • investing in future
  • Peer education – if you’re doing 10 things and neighbor’s doing 15, you want to see what they’re doing
    • Is your no way pile exactly like your neighbor’s? – usually no
  • Focus on engage and reflect – how much are you already doing…rather than tackling abstract concepts
  • Commitment to action
    • Get people to TANGIBLY move things from could do and will do
    • Person: pick one person to be your accountability buddy 
    • Timetable: Fuel efficient car in next few years
    • Motivation: 
      • For adults: a person or organization whose values and goals you do not agree with – How much money you’ll give to the organization
      • For HS/college students: social motivation
        • Make other person lunch for a week
        • Drive someone to school
    • Negative consequences are bigger motivator
  • Begin by telling your own story – personalizing the issue
    • Al gore – abstract…most of us aren’t able to take in that much change – stories help with this, getting people to reflect their story as well
  • Peer Support
    • People begin to realize how many people care about this issue

Drives inaction

  • Guilt
  • Anxiety doesn’t work well – inverted u shape curve of anxiety and performance

Common Conclusions from all interviews

General themes

  • It’s always hard to get people to relate and care about an issue

Drives action

  • Sense of personal responsibility
  • Community: helps alleviate frustration, have someone to talk to
    • Being surrounded by people who care = motivation
    • importance of personal connection through stories
  • Mentality: accepting the small victories, persistence
  • Empathy: understand what others are going through and are busy, try to relate to them
  • Showing small steps people can take
  • Making sure you’re approachable
    • Clara: teachers are approachable
    • Ms hoeffler: struggle with lack of office

Causes inaction

  • Too much of a focus on hard science: only learn about 1 solution for 5 problems, feeling of helplessness, lack of policy action
  • Anti-institution attitudes
  • overwhelming/helplessness: people don’t understand the impact of the small things they can do
  • Stress (esp from students)