Jocelyn Sage Mitchell is a political researcher, educator, collaborator, and speaker, studying politics in America and the Middle East. Jocelyn’s work focuses on public opinion, nationalism, and political legitimacy. Her research explores how people engage with one another as well as their governments to have their voices heard and their needs met. As an assistant professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar and an affiliated faculty member of Northwestern University’s Middle East and North African Studies Program in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Jocelyn Sage Mitchell has secured more than $1 million USD in competitive grant funding to gather public opinion data through large-scale surveys, focus groups, and ethnographic interviews. Jocelyn’s projects solve real-world problems through interdisciplinary collaboration with her diverse teams of researchers and students.

Jocelyn Sage Mitchell Headshot

As an educator, Jocelyn Sage Mitchell teaches political science and interdisciplinary courses that prioritize active and applied learning, peer interaction and support, and holistic attention to the social and emotional wellbeing of her students. Jocelyn includes her students in all of her grant projects, mentoring and training them in research skills, and valuing their expertise and insights. Under her guidance, Jocelyn’s undergraduate researchers have presented at international conferences, received summer research grants, published their papers, and won awards for their work. Her mentored students have gone on to pursue MA and PhD programs at Columbia University, Georgetown University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of Cambridge, and many other institutions.Jocelyn Sage Mitchell also communicates her research through media appearances, presentations to general and specialized audiences, and academic and mainstream publications. Jocelyn has made multiple appearances on the international TV news station Al Jazeera and the London-based radio station The Monocle. She has given more than 80 academic presentations and more than 60 public lectures to diplomats, community groups, and general audiences. Jocelyn has published in The Washington Post as well as over 20 academic venues, including peer-reviewed journals such as International Affairs, International Journal of Communication, and Political Research Quarterly. Jocelyn Sage Mitchell holds a BA in political science and Middle Eastern studies from Brown University and an MA and a PhD in government from Georgetown University.

Jocelyn Sage Mitchell on Political Science Solutions to Climate Change

As the recent United Nations IPCC report makes clear, climate change is a very difficult problem to solve. To successfully tackle climate change, we need integrated solutions from many different areas, including science, economics, education, communication, and, of course, politics. Here are my insights into how political science can help provide solutions to climate change!

Collective Action

“Collective action” is when people successfully come together to achieve a common goal. But collective action is not as easy or as natural as it sounds! When goals are difficult, when people have different competing interests, and when communication is confusing, collective action can break down.

When it comes to climate change, we as a human race need to work together collectively to solve this problem! But how can we get people (and businesses, and governments) to combine their efforts effectively?

Political science helps us understand how collective action works and how best to achieve collective goals together. Political science also provides insights on why collective action fails, and how to avoid collective action problems in the future. Here are three big ideas from political science about how best to motivate people to work together to solve climate change.

#1: Make It Local

What if local communities are better at solving climate change than large-scale international efforts? Political science research shows that small-scale communities (local governments, companies, and neighborhoods) can share and protect environmental resources through a combination of legal rules and social norms that work on a local level.

City governments are particularly strong at this sort of local resource governance. New York City’s PlaNYC (now known as OneNYC), begun in 2007, has put the city on track to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% in 2030 even as the population continues to grow. And 90 of the world’s cities (representing more than 650 million inhabitants, and a fourth of the world’s economic output!) have come together in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group to “think globally, act locally” to combat climate change. State governments—especially in federal systems like the US, where a lot of power is reserved to the states—can also make big changes happen. For example, California’s $36 billion in climate investment over the past six years is affecting building codes, car production, solar power, and more to meet the state’s goal of going carbon-free by 2045. So as we approach the 2022 election and beyond, don’t just pay attention to the national elections: city and state politicians can make a big difference in environmental policies!

#2: Structure the Incentives

Political science tells us that institutions, which are laws, punishments, rewards, and social norms and expectations, can create incentives for people to change their behaviors and their attitudes. And governments, whether local, national, or international, are uniquely positioned to create these positive and negative incentives to promote environmentally friendly behaviors. This is because one of our basic motivations is to receive rewards and avoid punishments, especially if they are financial.

One of the biggest ways governments can promote climate-friendly behaviors is through carbon pricing. Carbon pricing is a system that considers both the environmental cost of the product as well as its actual production price. (Here’s a video example explaining carbon pricing with chickens!) Once an option becomes less financially attractive, people begin to change their cost-benefit calculations and make alternative choices. Governments can create positive incentives too, like the tax credits offered in the US for residential solar energy systems and the purchase of electric cars (making these investments less expensive!). Through carbon pricing policies, governments can help guide the behavior of individuals and groups toward choices that are better for our environment.

#3: Tell the Right Story

Words have power! Political science gives us three major insights on how we can harness the power of communication to help us achieve our common goal of a habitable planet for the future. We can use the right language, emphasize our shared goals, and embrace our competitive natures!

To use the right language, we need to find the words and ideas that will best speak to each of our audiences. A study in Qatar found that Qataris responded more urgently to the problem of “global warming” than to the problem of “climate change.” And a study in the US showed that self-identified “conservative” Americans responded strongly to calls for climate change action that were delivered in language that emphasized patriotism and duty to one’s country and religion. So, it’s important to use the words that will provoke your desired response!

Finding common goals that we all share can help make sure our communication is powerful and persuasive. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, two in three Americans believe the government should do more to protect the environment, including air and water quality and animal habitats. And three in four Americans support the development of alternative, renewable energies like wind, solar, and hydrogen power. These attitudes are found across the political spectrum, and they can provide the foundation for bipartisan climate-friendly policies!

And last, it’s always fun to embrace our competitive natures! We humans are social animals, and a little competition can get people to become invested in almost anything. There are lots of apps and programs where groups of people can compete with each other to track their carbon footprints. Check out resources like Ducky, Joulebug, and Meatless Mondays to think about how you can bring a little friendly competition to your friends, class, or workplace—and help the environment at the same time!   

Jocelyn Sage Mitchell
Job Title
Political Researcher and Educator