To shift behavior and broaden the climate culture, we invite people to send open letters about climate change to loved ones in the future.
"Dear Tomorrow, I will continue to study and practice what it means to choose people and the planet over profit." -DearTomorrow photo promise, Mardi Gras 2016. Photo credit: Elizabeth Cole McGehee, Wonk Shop Media
DearTomorrow is changing the conversation about climate change. Drawing from cutting edge behavioral science, we help people reflect on climate change in a way that aligns their deeply held personal values with the work that is needed to create a safe and stable climate for our children. We are building a community where people share letters, photos and videos to their youngest loved ones about their promise to take action on climate change. We are archiving these messages so children today can read them in the year 2050, thus preserving a diverse chorus of voices during this historic moment in the fight for a safe climate.
What actions do you propose?
Over the next five years, DearTomorrow will reach millions with personal, inspiring, action-oriented messages. The project will focus on inviting a diverse user base to submit letter, photo and video messages and to share them through their social networks, our social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and traditional media. Using the rich content of user-submitted messages, we will amplify powerful and unique voices with creative implementations such as large-scale public arts projects, short videos, a book or film, and an interactive living exhibit in a major public institution in the US. We are also developing a platform that will utilize high-level data science to match individuals with climate action recommendations that make sense for them.
How it Works: Participants submit messages (letters, photos, videos) about climate change dedicated to their children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, students or other important young people in their lives. This process connects climate change to core identities and priorities that people already hold, thus increasing the personal relevance of climate change and driving motivation to act. DearTomorrow then helps our users find meaningful actions by connecting them with the work of our partner organizations, such as the Environmental Voter Project, Moms Clean Air Force and Climate Parents, and encouraging them to take the next step on climate change action.
We publish all messages at deartomorrow.org and then curate and promote the highest quality content through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), traditional media and our partners' networks. These personal DearTomorrow messages are incredibly powerful and have been shown to be ideal content for sharing across social media networks. When one person shares their message on Facebook, it is read by 50 to 120 people in their network. By promoting the message through our networks, we reach thousands more. Compared to average click-through-rates of 0.5-1%, the messages we share are clicked on and read by 5-10% of those who see them in their social media feeds. Our COP21 video, for example, was shared over 400 times and had over 150,000 Facebook views.
Impact: The act of writing a DearTomorrow message powerfully increases the willingness of individuals to contribute to climate change actions. In her recent dissertation research, co-founder Trisha Shrum tested the impact of writing a DearTomorrow letter and found that the act of writing about climate change significantly increases actual donations to a climate change non-profit (Shrum 2016). A related study found that writing about one’s legacy to the future similarly increases donations (Zaval et al 2015). Other studies have found that encouraging individuals to consider the perspective of future generations can increase pro-environmental behavior (Pahl and Bauer 2013; Arnocky 2014).
In addition to the behavioral science literature, our own users have attested to how writing a DearTomorrow has increased their engagement and motivation to act on climate change. Selected participant comments/feedback:
• "We have a new solar array and tankless water heater...Thank You DearTomorrow for Inspiring Us!!!"
• "Thank you for making the site. I am going to write a letter and then share the website with my local mom’s group too."
• "In a recent survey, I selected climate change as one of my three priority issues. I never would have done this before DearTomorrow."
• DearTomorrow user sent this message to their close friends and family: "In the spirit of being courageous and stretching myself, I am sharing my letter with you. I care so deeply about this issue and I believe that our individual stories can help create momentum for change."
• "DearTomorrow has triggered a ton of significant improvements in our day-to-day lives."
Importantly, this project also creates a unique opportunity for people to talk to their friends and family about climate change. Hearing that one’s friends and family care about climate change and are taking actions to reduce the risk to their children organically creates social norms that acting on climate change is an important part of one’s legacy. A recent study in Nature Climate Change found that social norms are “powerful, positive, and direct influences on public sphere climate action” for those who are concerned about climate change but are not taking action (Doherty & Webler 2016). Yet, only a quarter of Americans regularly talk about climate change (Leiserowitz et al. 2015). By encouraging people to write about taking action on climate change and to share those stories with their social networks, DearTomorrow cultivates powerful social norms that will drive long-lasting behavioral change. Additionally, because DearTomorrow asks each person to use their own voice to speak on why climate change action is important to them, these messages cut across social and political boundaries and can reach people who may not see themselves as environmentalists.
Beyond the impact on behavior and social norms today, we will have a lasting impact on the historic record of this crucial moment in history. All messages become part of our historic archive, which will be preserved for centuries. This archive is a unique record of the personal stories about how people today are grappling with climate change as we are at the cusp of history where action to reduce climate change is vital and the impacts are already being felt. These messages will be publicly released in the years 2030 and 2050 for their recipients to read when they are grown. a unique and powerful project to shift behavior to take strong action on climate change.
Our Audience: The DearTomorrow community is open for everyone to participate; however, our core audience are parents and grandparents primed to see the relevance of climate change to their own lives and values. Increasingly these parents are millennials: in the U.S. there are more than 30 million millennials who are now parents and this is expected to double within the next decade (Gutting and Fromm 2013) and in 2014, 85 percent of all new mothers were millennials (Goldman Sachs 2015).
The content generated by DearTomorrow (personal stories, quotes and photos) is ideal for platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is the most popular platform used with 91% of millennials reporting use. 76% of these users say the main reason for using Facebook is to learn about what their friends are talking about and 57% report using Facebook at least once a day as a news and information source (American Press Institute 2015).
Why DearTomorrow?: Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. To mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, urgent action is needed in every sector and in every country in the world. Yet, there is a failure of political will necessary to make a transition to a low carbon future. One reason for this is the psychological disconnection between the need to act now and the future consequences of climate change. Put simply, it is difficult for people to care about things that are far away and not connected to their highest priorities in their daily lives.
The psychological and behavioral aspects of addressing climate change have not been given the same weight as technological and organizational solutions. Climate change has not been framed in a way that feels immediate and relevant. Framing often focuses on generic “future generations” or evokes fear and guilt—both are not effective for creating urgency or sustaining long-term action. Best practices for framing and messaging on climate change are well known, but are still underutilized.
DearTomorrow addresses this problem by connecting climate change to the personal identities and values that people share across political and social boundaries: the values of parental responsibility, family and legacy. This project opens up a poignant conversation across time to make climate change highly personal, immediate and accessible. We offer a personal, hopeful, and action-oriented framing for people to connect to climate change.
DearTomorrow also utilizes a number of the best practices from behavior science and climate change communications, including the use of narrative storytelling and visual imagery, creating social norms and collective efficacy, and relying on trusted messengers (non-traditional messengers, close friends and family) who use language tailored for their own social network. Together, best practices in social science paired with the personal and simple approach of writing to one’s own child make DearTomorrow a unique and powerful project to shift behavior to take strong action on climate change.
Our Vision: This project was created and is being run by two moms with young children who personally understand the importance of thinking about climate change in relation to their own children and the power of this narrative. Our vision is to create a community where hundreds of thousands of people are able to participate in this important transition. Our project asks people to reflect about climate change and make commitments to reduce their own carbon footprint in order to create the political will necessary for major societal change on climate.
We have a vision for large-scale public participation to create powerful images and stories about people's willingness to think about and take action on climate change. Our five-year plan includes the establishment of the project in the US, the amplification of the participant voices through traditional and social media, the development of short videos, a book or documentary, an exhibit in a major cultural institution, expansion to 3-4 other key countries, and establishment of a long-term archive.
We are also developing a platform that will utilize high-level data science to match individuals with climate action recommendations that make sense for them. In this platform, we will crowd-source the best actions, organizations, and campaigns and target recommendations based on what similar users have found helpful. Utilizing the best of behavioral science practices, we will help our users find each new step on their pathway that builds their climate legacy.
Content Creation and Communications Strategies: For 2016, our main strategies for content creation include:
· Toolkit: DearTomorrow is creating a step-by-step direction and discussion guide for organizations to carry out the letter writing and photo promises project. These groups may include, but are not limited to schools/classrooms, religious organizations, environmental groups, moms/parenting groups, and other community-based organizations. In this model, DearTomorrow provides the creative organizing tool and the shared platform for others to carry out the project within their own communities. We have piloted the project in three times in 2016, including two classrooms and a local chapter of an environmental organization.
· Partnerships: We have entered into a number of strategic partnerships and continue to seek partnerships in order to build the project and expand our presence. Our partner organizations have promoted the DearTomorrow concept by engaging their existing members, inviting people to participate in the project, and promoting the project through media opportunities, social media channels, emails lists, and events.
· On-the-ground activities: To expand our user base and reach new audiences, we will carry out the DearTomorrow photo promises project at 5+ major public events.
· Media strategies: DearTomorrow curates and promotes high quality content and high profile messengers through our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels, our users and partner organizations' social media platforms, as well as traditional media opportunities.
Who will take these actions?
Everyone can contribute to DearTomorrow, but we focus on parents and grandparents of children ages 0-5. We believe this time of transition makes the future seem closer and more relevant. Our platform allows people to express their concerns about climate change and imagine a more positive future for their loved ones. It empowers people with suggestions for concrete actions they can take to reduce their individual footprints and invites them to be part of a larger community taking action.
We have created a number of partnerships with key organizations to reach parents, environmentalists, and the general public about the importance and relevance of climate change action. Through the development of a new toolkit, individuals and organizations will be able to carry out the project within their own communities and participate in DearTomorrow.
Co-founders Jill Kubit and Trisha Shrum, both mothers of young children, created this project to highlight the powerful perspective that parents bring to the conversation on climate. Jill Kubit brings expertise on climate change communications, leadership development, coalition building and organizational development. Trisha Shrum, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist and environmental economist, has been studying climate change for over a decade. Casey Davis, a professional archivist working at WGBH Educational Foundation and founder of ProjectARCC, is DearTomorrow's lead archivist. E. James Ford brings years of experience in web development and is currently rebuilding our website. We also have the support of a wide network of experts including a legal team at Van Ness Feldman, logo design from Nancy Mendoza, and media strategy development from Climate Nexus. Key partner organizations include Moms Clean Air Force, the Environmental Voter Project, the Solutions Project, Project ARCC, Our Kids’ Climate/GCCA, Climate Parents, Climate Mama, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
Where will these actions be taken?
The initial focus for 2016 and 2017 is to scale up DearTomorrow’s online presence in the United States. By the end of 2017, we will generate 2,000 original messages. These messages will actively engage 400,000 people who will read or watch them, share them, and discuss them in their social networks. These message of climate change as an issue of family and legacy will reach 4,000,000 people.
Our strategy is to create and curate high quality content in three forms (video, written messages, and photo ‘promises’), and to promote the DearTomorrow messages through high profile messengers, promotion in social and traditional media, and partner organizations (environmental, health, religious, business). We will also carry out the photo promises project in at least 5 large public events in the US. Based on an analysis of success in the US, we will expand to other countries (e.g. Brazil, Mexico, India) based upon importance of the country in global climate mitigation and suitability of our model (social media use, cultural norms, etc.). In addition, DearTomorrow will secure a location for a living exhibit and long-term archive in a major cultural institution (museum or university) based in the US.
DearTomorrow is a program of United Charitable, a registered 501(c)3 located in Falls Church, VA.
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
DearTomorrow seeks to frame climate change as a parental responsibility and moral issue. Our measure of success is the extent to which we help influence the framing of climate change as personal, relevant and accessible. We aim to have 10,000 personal submissions and reach 20,000,000 people by 2020. This project will impact not only individual behavior change and reduce individual carbon footprints, but also help create a cultural shift and political will needed for larger policy change.
It is difficult to measure the impact of shifting behavior. However, with our careful foundation in behavioral science and research on the efficacy of the DearTomorrow approach, we are confident that those we reach will be touched by these messages. Those who write them will be even more deeply moved. Cultivating social norms is one of the most powerful ways to drive action on climate change. DearTomorrow’s unique approach is perfectly tailored for social media and holds incredible potential.
What are other key benefits?
DearTomorrow is a project that encourages engagement both online and offline. By participating in the online project, people become more interested and motivated to take actions on climate change, and to share these motivations with their network. These actions can take place in their home, in their communities and in political spheres. In addition to reducing one's own carbon footprint and increasing the political will of larger policy actions on climate change, another benefit is that people will become more engaged citizens within their communities. Moreover, as climate change becomes more and more visible, the need to have a space for conversations that grapple with the changes already underway is increasingly important.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Due to the generosity of dozens of people who believe in this project and have donated their time and expertise to this project, we have been able to build this project in the first year (development of website, establish fiscal sponsor, build partnerships, launch project, create launch video, develop social media, create logo and identity, develop communication strategy) for less than $5000.
To build and expand the project, we want to raise a minimum of $120,000/year. Expenses include: paid staff time, additional website design, marketing and communications expenses, on the ground outreach expenses, and material development. Additional funds would be used to develop our targeted action section of the website, a cultural exhibit and expansion of communications and outreach methods.
DearTomorrow is a behavioral and cultural shift platform that aims to document and shift perceptions and actions on climate change from 2015 to 2020. This project runs over the next 5 years as this timeframe is critical for creating the public will necessary for policies that will peak emissions and then drastically reduce emissions at the scale and timeframe necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
2015 (already completed): creation of concept, development of website, creation of partnerships, rebranding process, official launch, beta testing of concept.
2016: development and implementation of comprehensive digital and on-the-ground outreach strategy in the US, prototype of targeted action items section, traditional and social media strategy, solidify and carry out partnerships with four organizations.
2017: further development of targeted action items, temporary exhibit and/or public installation drawing from the best DearTomorrow material, expansion of partnerships and outreach including targeted cities in the US to scale project, securing long-term archive, expanded media presence, full research project on concept.
2018-2019: expansion to 3-4 additional countries, fully establish long term archive, permanent exhibit in major public institution, fully functional targeted actions platform.
In the medium and long term (2030, 2050 and beyond), this project will provide a unique historic record of how people thought and acted on climate change during this critical time in human history.
There are several proposals in the behavior shift category that share similar perspectives and strategies to DearTomorrow. While we have not yet connected with these groups, it is worth noting that there could be synergies/collaborations/shared ideas with:
Imvelo and The Pledge are both developing action-based platforms to help individuals reduce their carbon footprints. This is similar to the DearTomorrow approach to create a targeted actions platform that matches individuals to tailored climate action recommendations.
Creating a new culture (Etho). This group of climate change communicators shares similar thinking about the need to create hopeful, inspirational messages and a more positive vision for the future. They also understand the power of social media to reach new audiences.
Tupperware parties meet climate activists (Climate for Change) due to its emphasis on using narratives and connecting with friends and family networks to build political momentum.
Arnocky, S., Milfont, T. L., & Nicol, J. R. (2014). Time Perspective and Sustainable Behavior: Evidence for the Distinction Between Consideration of Immediate and Future Consequences. Environment & Behavior, 46(5), 556–582. doi:10.1177/0013916512474987
Doherty, K. L., & Webler, T. N. (2016). Social norms and efficacy beliefs drive the Alarmed segment’s public-sphere climate actions. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE3025
Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Rosenthal, S. (2015). Climate change in the American mind: March, 2015. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
Pahl, S., & Bauer, J. (2013). Overcoming the Distance: Perspective Taking With Future Humans Improves Environmental Engagement. Environment & Behavior, 45, 155–169. doi:10.1177/0013916511417618
Shrum, T.R. (2016). Behavioral and Experimental Insights on Consumer Decisions and the Environment. PhD Dissertation. Harvard University.
Zaval, L., Markowitz, E. M., & Weber, E. U. (2015). How Will I Be Remembered? Conserving the Environment for the Sake of One’s Legacy. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797614561266
American Press Institute, How Millennials Use and Control Social Media, March 16, 2015.https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/millennials-social-media
Goldman Sachs, Millennial Moms: Spending Implications from a New Generation of Parents, May 11, 2015.
Gutting, D and Fromm, J., Millennials as New Parents: The Rise of a New American Pragmatism, September 2013http://www.millennialmarketing.com/research-paper/millennials-as-new-parents
How can we mobilize individuals and society to shift behaviors in order to address climate change?