Global environmental problems are often the aggregated effect of behavior by individuals, but is persuading people individually to change their behavior useful for addressing these problems? Understanding why it is that people behave individually in ways that have collectively problematic environmental effects is key to understanding what works—and doesn’t work—to change this individual behavior. This article argues that because of the problem characteristics and social structures that underpin large-scale environmental problems, a focus on trying to persuade people to behave in ways that are less environmentally problematic is ineffective at best and possibly even counterproductive. Instead we should focus on changing systems and structures to provide incentives, routines, and contexts in which we can simultaneously change the behavior of large groups of people, whether or not their behavior change is undertaken intentionally for environmental benefit.

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