Perfect Storm 2030: Public attitudes
This post is part of the BBC's Perfect Storm 2030 coverage, where correspondents explore the forecast by UK chief scientist John Beddington, of a "perfect storm" of food, water and energy shortages in 2030.
Ed Miliband says he is in "the persuasion business". So how do you persuade people when research suggests that many of them don't trust your message?
The secretary of state for energy and climate change told the BBC recently that his job is to convince people "to make big changes" in their lives. Unless that happens, he warns, the planet and our way of life will be damaged for generations to come.
But Whitehall research reveals that:
"[M]istrust is a critical issue which is potentially a major barrier to people becoming more pro-environmental".
Government is suspected of "using" the environment to increase taxes. What's more, people don't like politicians telling them how to lead their lives.
There is still deep scepticism. Despite virtually unanimous academic opinion, half of us still believe science is divided on whether mankind's activities contribute to climate change.
And more than a quarter of us don't think our individual behaviour makes any difference to the environmental crisis.
So Mr Miliband needs a much more subtle approach. He hopes to "nudge" us into going green, to change the way we behave without ever realising that we are being coaxed and cajoled by central government.
The starting point for the strategy is a document published at the beginning of last year entitled A Framework for Pro-Environmental Behaviours [678KB PDF]. It advises ministers to:
"[U]se 'opinion leaders' and trusted intermediaries to reach your audience".
If people won't listen to elected politicians, get someone more plausible to deliver the message.
The most convincing messengers are not boffins or journalists, local councillors or civil servants - we are most likely to believe our next door neighbour.
So projects like Low Carbon West Oxford (LCWO) are held up as models of how to change behaviour.
The scheme, inspired in part by the extraordinary summer floods which hit their neighbourhood in 2007, sees residents challenge each other to change their ways:
• homes are undergoing eco-makeovers
• solar panels are being fixed to roofs
• five families have given up their car and use a pool vehicle when they cannot walk ,cycle or use public transport
• some have agreed to give up foreign holidays
• others have pledged only to eat local, seasonal food
You can meet some of LCWO's recruits in this short film I made for the television news.
It all fits neatly with the government's aims for behaviour change.
Rather than simply beseeching us to "save the planet", ministers hope they can convince us in other ways.
"Use non-environmental motivations," their advisors recommend.
"Recognise the role of social norms, identity, and status for moving towards greater adoption of pro-environmental behaviours."
In other words, appeal to the things that matter to people right now - their wallet and their self-esteem.
That's why much of the Act on CO2 campaign is built on the idea that saving the planet equals saving money.
Ministers are told:
"There is no single solution that will motivate a mainstream audience to live a greener life."
In fact, the government's experts have identified seven distinct types of people:
"[S]even clusters each sharing a distinct set of attitudes and beliefs towards the environment".
Are you a "positive green" or a "stalled starter", a "waste watcher" or a "sidelined supporter"? When it comes to climate change, we have all been categorised.
This chart shows where each cluster fits in terms of our ability and willingness to get greener. And there is a sophisticated strategy associated with each group. So, the toughest nuts to crack ("stalled starters" and "honestly disengaged") will need to be forced to act.
The translation of "choice editing" means, for example, making it impossible for people to buy anything but environmentally-friendly light-bulbs.
It might also mean trying to make people feel guilty about buying South American green beans in mid-winter or serving strawberries at Christmas.
"Positive greens" and "concerned consumers", on the other hand, need practical support rather than new laws.
It might be about simplifying the systems for selling self-generated electricity or providing intelligent grants for home insulation.
Behind the scenes in Whitehall, committees are constantly assessing how successful they are in getting us to change.
This memo illustrates how the Department for Transport measures progress.
With their thought-showers and their segmentation models, government ministers are trying to alter the social weather, attempting to create the right environmental conditions so we will see climate change as a reason for changing the way we live.
PS You might be interested in my report from last night's Ten O'Clock news.