A perception-based Catch-22 may be hindering popular appetite for larger climate-related initiatives. It turns out, if you feel like you’re already putting out the effort to help, you may balk at anything more the government asks you to do if you think you’ll lose out in some way.

Cutting back on air-conditioning, turning off extra lights and sorting your recyclables can make you feel like you’re doing your bit for the environment. But if you’re already making a few such sacrifices, you may be less inclined when asked to make still more—supporting, for instance, government measures to mitigate climate change. New research has found that individuals who took sustainability measures at home develop the opposite attitude toward larger, national-level interventions like higher carbon taxes.

The study adds to a growing body of social science research on how people’s emotional and cognitive responses influence the way they relate to environmental issues.

The good news is that this is just one study, and it also points to ways to properly communicate about larger initiatives in order to bring individuals on board. Turns out, everyone just needs the right incentive.

So what is the best way to communicate about sustainability without having public service messages backfire? According to Clayton, putting information in the proper context is key. When providing information or asking people to make informed decisions, inducements to change behaviors are not enough. Messages that communicate the need to conserve energy or not pollute the environment must be coupled with various motivating factors—saving money, tapping into a person’s do-good tendencies or some other impetus to spur action.

Read more about Small Steps to Save Energy Exhaust Political Will for Bigger Actions by Knvul Sheikh at Scientific American - Sustainability