Social interactions can help slow climate change: Study

Simply talking to your friends about adopting a more planet-friendly diet or avoiding the use of fossil fuels may help fight climate change, scientists say.

Simply talking to your friends about adopting a more planet-friendly diet or avoiding the use of fossil fuels may help fight climate change, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo in Canada have developed a new mathematical model that accounts for social processes such as social learning in climate predictions.

The study, published in PLoS Computational Biology, shows that including social processes can alter climate change predictions.

The findings may help stem or reduce global warming.

"Human behaviour affects natural systems including climate, and that climate systems, in turn, affect behaviour," said Madhur Anand, from the University of Guelph.

"But social processes are often neglected in climate models," she said.

The researchers believe the key to slowing down global warming lies in coupling climate change models with social learning, or understanding how learning from others affects our opinions or actions.

For the study, the researchers combined a common climate prediction model with a new human behaviour model to look at interactions.

They found that social learning about mitigation strategies such as hearing that a friend has bought a new hybrid car or adopted a plant-based diet can influence social norms in ways that ultimately affect climate outcomes.

"The rate of social learning is key. If that rate is low, with only a few people attempting to mitigate carbon emissions, it will take longer to change social norms and, in turn, to alter climate change predictions," Anand said.

"The more people become mitigators through social learning such as attending town hall meetings, taking courses or talking with neighbours, the faster the population will switch, and that will have a direct effect on reducing CO2 emissions," she said.

"The socio-climate model suggests the best approach combines high social learning rates with novel mitigation measures such as government regulation or technology development.

"Our socio-climate model indicates that an increase in social media and other campaigns to raise awareness, such as climate marches and international reports, should ideally be followed by governmental and other incentives to reduce carbon emissions," said Thomas Bury, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo. 

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