Kathryn Laing Doherty is a 2014 graduate of the PhD Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University


value belief norm theory, efficacy, social cognitive theory, social norms, climate change, global warming, alarm, public mitigtion action, environmental citizenship, activism, advocacy, Vermont, structural equation modeling, surveys, communication, Global Warming's Six Americas

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The degree to which the climate continues to change will largely be determined by choices made by individuals and nations regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Many Americans engage in energy conservation actions. But, the political will in the United States to adopt emissions reduction policies is unlikely to exist without public demand. Therefore, public mitigation actions of individuals (e.g., contacting elected officials in support of emissions reduction) are critical to induce legislative response. The majority of individuals who are most concerned about climate change (the “Alarmed” segment) do not engage in public mitigation actions, but some do. The purpose of this study is to examine the social-psychological factors that drive the public mitigation actions of the Alarmed. This was done through a comparison of the original value belief norm (VBN) model to eight author-created models that added predictor variables to the VBN. The objective was to determine which model was most effective at explaining public mitigation action. Drivers of these actions were also assessed by comparing those who took action (“actors”) with those who did not (“non-actors”). Electronic survey responses of 702 Alarmed Vermonters, analyzed with structural equation modeling, revealed that the modified VBN that included four efficacy variables and descriptive social norms was the best fitting and most explanatory model. Additionally, actors had significantly higher efficacy scores and descriptive social norms scores than non-actors. Results suggest that individuals are more inclined to engage in public mitigation action if they feel capable of taking action, believe that their individual and collective efforts are effective, and think others are participating. Two core contributions of this study are: (1) an improved VBN model in the context of climate change, and (2) greater understanding of the precursors to public mitigation action. These findings have broad implications for climate change communication strategies. The electronic version of this dissertation is in the open-access OhioLINK ETD Center (