With the UN-led climate talks due in November, citizens around the world have reason to despair over their governments’ efforts to tackle climate change. Existing national policies put the planet on track for 2.7C warming – more than double the level that has already caused so many climate disasters and far more than the 1.5C target that the nations of the world have agreed to.
For Canadians who have spoken out in the recent election, is there anything else that can be done?
Environmental opposition has been shown to reduce emissions by shutting down polluting power plants or pressuring governments to pass new rules. So there is reason to believe that the recent climate strikes may help keep politicians focused, but what about talking directly to elected officials?
Are generic campaign emails effective?
In a recent study, my colleagues and I used a real-world experiment to determine whether ordinary campaign emails could persuade Members of Parliament to take climate action. With the help of Evidence for Democracy, a nonpartisan organization, constituents emailed their MP with a short request, “Please post this pro-climate message on your Twitter account”:
Science tells us that climate change poses a significant public health threat, from asthma and heat stroke to disease outbreaks caused by extreme weather. Thanks to all the youth who expressed their concern #Fridays4Future #MarchforScience
Tracking the MPs’ Twitter accounts, we found that only one MP had actually posted the text in the email. We found some evidence that lawmakers who received more emails to tweet about climate change posted more pro-climate tweets – just not with the words that constituents suggested.
It tells us that Madhya Pradesh offices read their emails and sometimes act on them, but common emails originating from advocacy organizations’ websites, such as “Click here to email your Member of Parliament”, persuasive Can’t be.
What do political workers have to say
As a follow-up, we interviewed political staff – the people who decide what messages MPs get. Most employees told us that high-effort contacts such as phone calls, hand-written letters and personal emails are more persuasive.
Others said they treat all contacts equally, but as one employee put it, “When a letter arrives, someone has to open it and read it. An email comes in and you’re blasted with it… don’t want to say we don’t read them, we read them all, probably too quickly… and then move on to the next. “
Take lessons from home for workers
Still, for activists planning their campaigns, it would not be wise to give up digital connectivity.
First, there are trade-offs in the amount of snail mail you can send compared to email. But there are times when a simple email is as good as an emotional phone call. Employees submit constituent contact figures to their party headquarters and these figures do not differentiate between formats. The parties then formulate their policies and messages with those raw numbers in mind.
It tells us that campaigns and components can communicate strategically. If you want to influence the direction of a party while they are drafting their platform, a copy-pasted email is probably fine. But if you’re emailing an MP with a cabinet position, you want something that will capture their attention – and talk face-to-face, if possible.
In 2020, the ruling Liberal cabinet held a meeting to approve the Tech Frontier Oilsands project. The reporting suggested that component preferences were a central motivation for those opposed to this fossil fuel infrastructure; It helps to persuade the people at the table.
In general, more messages are more persuasive. So it’s a good idea to organize friend groups or time messages to coincide with larger climate events. This is something that climate strike organizers may consider. According to one study, teenagers are the largest group of people at Friday for Future rallies, but only 10 percent of them ever reach out to an elected official.
More climate connectivity still needed
Although with some employees we heard a lot about climate change from their constituents, others did not. One employee said most communications about climate change were sent automatically from websites, with no personal touch. Another said, “It’s unfortunate, it amazes me how little activism is on climate change.”
If you’re sending a message or making a phone call, it’s good to be personal. Tell your elected officials how climate change has affected you and your family and your concerns for the future. Then you can ask for more ambition, stronger policies and that Parliament prioritizes climate change so that things can happen quickly.
When it comes to addressing climate change, speed really does matter. You don’t have to wait until the next election to have your say.