Listen to part of a lecture in an environmental science class.
OK. So what are some of the most effective public policies when it comes to fighting environmental problems?
There’re a lot of different approaches but, and this is in my opinion,
too often we underestimate how much can be accomplished just by appealing to people’s sense of moral duty… to their civic duty…
in other words, getting people to voluntarily stop polluting because…well just because it’s the right thing to do.
These programs that try to get people to voluntarily stop doing things that hurt the environment are called moral suasion.
Now obviously, this type of approach won’t be effective for all problems but it will solve some…for some environmental concerns, moral suasion has been very effective.
The classic case is uh…well, Smokey the Bear.
Now don’t laugh, when the Forest Service first came out with the Smokey the Bear campaign, it may have seemed a little “childish.”
You remember the character--the bear--dressed up like a forest ranger…
saying things like, “Please don’t hurt my animal friends, or please don’t start forest fires”…well, it worked.
It worked because it made people more sensitive to these problems.
This Smokey the Bear campaign--this kind of campaign in general--raises people’s awareness of the problem and appeals to their sense of moral duty…to do the right thing.
Another good example of this is recycling.
In the early days of recycling, local communities promoted these voluntary efforts…they made people aware of the need to reduce the amount of garbage by recycling.
They provided neighborhoods with containers to put their glass and newspapers in--instead of throwing ’em away.
Some people started doing it and others followed.
Maybe people thought, “I have this recycling container, my neighbor’s doing it, I should do it too”.
Nowadays of course, everyone recycles.
The point is…in order to get people to really do it, to get high rates of compliance…the program heavily relied on moral suasion.