It likely is no surprise to hear that people don’t always do the good they could — even if they want to.

When it comes to supporting political action around climate change, that reality is particularly stark. Analysis of a series of surveys of American adults spanning three years recently found a marked gap between the willingness of respondents to take political action with respect to global warming and the extent to which they actually did act.

In a series of six surveys from March 2021 to October 2023, researchers from George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication asked thousands of respondents from a representative sample of U.S. adults whether they were willing to undertake four political actions related to global warming: sign a petition, donate funds, volunteer or contact government officials. They also asked which of these actions individuals actually took part in. Far fewer actually acted than said they would be likely to.

Looking more closely at those who expressed strong willingness to act, the study found that those for whom intention and action aligned were more likely than their non-acting counterparts and other Americans generally to talk and hear about global warming, acknowledge norms supporting climate action, and believe collective action makes a difference.

What does this suggest regarding ways to close the “attitude–behavior gap”? The researchers noted that, although their study is not able to show a causal connection, it does hint at ways those seeking climate solutions might motivate the predisposed to align their actions with their predisposition. Suggestions include:

1) Ask people who are willing to take action to do so.

2) Make action easy.

3) Offer options so they can follow their personal preferences.

4) Point out how action supports their values and goals.

5) Provide examples of instances in which action has made a difference.

6) Talk about climate change.

7) Encourage others to talk about climate change.

8) Tell stories that normalize climate action.